The List

How Apple should spend its $98 billion cash reserve: 4 suggestions

It's a problem just about any business would kill for: Apple's savings account is so flush it's making investors antsy

Apple is sitting on top of the corporate world — and on a huge pile of cash, about $97.6 billion. As CEO, the late Steve Jobs was a stickler for hoarding the company's cash reserves for when Apple hit a rough patch, but it's looking like the tech giant will finally part with some of that money. New CEO Tim Cook hinted as much on Tuesday in his address to the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference. "I'd be the first to admit, we have more cash than we need to run the business on a daily basis," said the famously frugal Cook. But Apple will continue to spend its money judiciously, he added. "We are not going to run out and have a toga party." With a $100 billion toga party off the table, here are four things Apple might do with its mountain of cash:

1. Buy, buy, buy!My advice, says Tom Taulli at InvestorPlace: "Get much more aggressive with acquisitions," Dealmaking is the quickest way to enter new markets, something Apple must do "to keep up the sizzling growth." Purchasing a company like Salesforce.com would allow Apple to conquer business-oriented cloud computing, to go with its consumer-oriented iCloud. Or, Apple could buy Sony, says Brier Dudley in The Seattle Times. "A steal for $19 billion," it would be great fit for a company entering the TV business: "Sony makes nice TVs, but it could use better software."

2. Finally give investors a dividendCook told the Goldman conference that Apple shareholders "don't want us to act like we are rich." But after 17 years, "many shareholders wouldn't mind if Apple were to issue a dividend," says John Paczkowski in All Things D. Steve Jobs was adamant about Apple keeping its money for investing in the business, but "surely a meaningful one-time payment like that would have little impact to the company's earnings or cash flow these days." IBM, Microsoft, and Intel do it, "so why should Apple shareholders be denied?" says InvestorPlace's Taulli. "Dividends are a nice bonus for loyal shareholders."

3. Improve working conditions for its Chinese laborersA dividend? "Keep dreaming," says The Seattle Times' Dudley. But maybe Apple would "pay a special dividend — to Chinese sweatshop workers who make Apple gadgets." A tenth of 1 percent of the company's $100 billion would go a long way toward creating "better conditions in Shenzhen," or starting a health care fund for those workers. Improving their quality of life is "the right thing to do," says Farhad Manjoo in Slate. But this goes beyond ethics. Apple's brand is crucial to its success, and the reports about its "dark underbelly" threaten its longterm profitability.

4. Give it awayNot known for philanthropy, Jobs "even said he opposed giving away money," but Cook is more charitable, says Dana Kerr in CNET News. Since taking over, he's contributed $100 million of Apple's cash to local hospitals and disease-fighting nonprofit Product RED, and agreed to match up to $10,000 a year in charitable giving by employees. Note: On the same day Apple reported its "stupendous profits," Microsoft founder Bill Gates was challenging world leaders to fight poverty and disease, says The Seattle Times' Dudley. With $100 billion, "what could Apple do to make the world a better place for everyone?"

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