When you have $216 billion in cash that (for now at least) you can't return to shareholders without incurring a large tax bill, and when your business model leads you to be very selective with regards to making big acquisitions, you might start to get creative about deploying some of that cash.
That gives some context to a Monday Wall Street Journal report stating that Apple (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. (AAPL) Report has held talks with Japanese tech/telecom giant SoftBank (SFTBY) about investing up to $1 billion in a massive tech fund SoftBank is in the process of raising. Just last week, SoftBank chief Masayoshi Son said during a meeting with President-elect Trump that he plans to invest $50 billion of the fund's assets in the U.S., creating 50,000 jobs in the process.
SoftBank is looking to raise $100 billion for the fund, set to launch next year, and Apple reportedly wants in. Sources caution that no deal has been finalized yet. SoftBank promises to invest at least $25 billion in the fund, and is close to getting a $45 billion commitment from Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund.
More than 90% of the $237.6 billion in cash and marketable securities Apple held at the end of its September quarter was located overseas. And while Trump has voiced his support for a tax holiday that lets U.S. firms repatriate cash at a 10% tax rate (rather than the standard 35%), there's no guarantee yet that the holiday will be enacted.
Earlier this year, Apple showed that it's not averse to making a large overseas investments by pouring $1 billion into Chinese ride-sharing leader Didi Chuxing, reportedly at a $28 billion valuation. Didi was valued at $35 billion in a subsequent deal to acquire Uber's Chinese operations.
By investing in Didi, Apple gained favor with a company whose data could be useful for its mapping and autonomous driving efforts, and perhaps also with Beijing. And by investing in SoftBank's fund, it would be in the good graces of a company that controls major carriers (
and SoftBank Mobile) in two of Apple's three biggest iPhone markets -- the U.S. and Japan. SoftBank also
to buy ARM Holdings, which developed the underlying CPU architecture behind Apple's A-series processors.
Investing in SoftBank's fund could also help Apple form alliances with some of the companies the fund ultimately invests in. For example, Apple could get a smart home device developer to support its HomeKit home automation platform, or a robot developer to make its hardware controllable through an iOS app.
Other tech giants, such as Intel (INTC) - Get Intel Corporation (INTC) Report, Alphabet's (GOOGL) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class A Report Google, Qualcomm (QCOM) - Get QUALCOMM Incorporated Report and Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) Report, have long used their venture capital arms to invest in companies that end up being their customers and/or ecosystem partners, as well as to get a better read on tech trends. The WSJ states that one of Apple's goals with the investment would be to "gain insight on emerging technologies."
It's worth remembering, however, that Apple sported a $604 billion market cap as of Monday's close; a $1 billion investment would make just a small dent on the company's balance sheet. Though potentially having some strategic value, a move like this may be more interesting for what it says about how Apple is willing to deploy an offshore cash hoard that has grown to staggering levels.