NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The biggest "tell" in what was otherwise a pretty boring Apple WorldWide Developers Conference Monday came during the iOS6 portion of the presentation, when Apple (AAPL) - Get Report announced full integration with Facebook (FB) - Get Report.
Unlike most of what happened at the event, this went beyond what was
rumored. A system for letting developers integrate their own apps with Facebook is also coming out, and it's now accessible directly from inside the App Store.
All of which got me to thinking:
At its Monday close Facebook is now worth "just" $58.4 billion, a long way from the estimated $100 billion figure talked about before the IPO. It's still pricey -- a price/earnings ratio of 87 -- thus unlikely to hit those heights any time soon.
Some of the investors who came in before the initial public offering, who could sell their shares once the "lockup" period expires, are either underwater or may perceive themselves to be.
Apple still lacks a social network. Its "cloud" is not a cloud at all, but a data center.
Facebook has been building a real cloud, using open source tools, for some time and it has engineers who really understand the need to save money on cloud installations if you want them to last.
My guess is Facebook's investors would jump at a bid of $80 billion. That's a huge premium from the current price.
As of March, Apple had a
cash hoard estimated at $97.6 billion. It's continuing to accumulate cash, and its plans for a dividend are not expected to make a significant dent in the hoard. The company's market cap is $534 billion.
So Apple could easily do a half-cash bid for Facebook, acquiring a fast-growing asset with significant cloud presence for less than one-tenth its common stock and less than one-half the cash it has on hand.
Apple's biggest problem is that, insofar as its cash flow is concerned, it's mainly a manufacturing company. That's where its money comes from. That's where its growth comes from. That's why it sports a P/E of "just" 14.5 as against more than 17 for
Facebook is everywhere Apple isn't. It has a big lead over Google in social networking, and in terms of raw cost may become close to competitive in cloud. (Its assets are newer, thus there may be some efficiencies there.)
Selling to Apple would let Facebook's investors cash out at something close to what they were expecting. Mark Zuckerberg would go from having about $1 billion in cash to much more. Apple CEO Tim Cook could negotiate enough autonomy to make the move seriously interesting. Facebook would give Apple the advertising presence it lacks, and this is a deal only Apple could do so there is unlikely to be a second bidder.
It may be about the only really big thing Apple could do that wouldn't draw scrutiny from the U.S. Justice Department, because the two companies are in completely different businesses. And that problem of Facebook lacking a mobile strategy? Solved.
What is most disappointing to Apple bulls is how "normal" a company Apple has become under Tim Cook. It is, as I wrote last year, like Elvis being replaced with Jackson Browne. It is evolving into just another big tech, on a larger scale than anyone could have imagined at the start of this century but, still, just another big tech.
Buying Facebook would instantly make Apple younger, it would give Apple an ad presence, it would give Apple a better cloud story. It would give Facebook cash, access to capital and a real shot at competing with Google, which is currently more than two times its size in terms of market cap.
. When the mothership in Cupertino is ready for occupancy, he will have been trained to take over the bridge. He'll still be in his 30s when Cook is ready for retirement.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
At the time of publication, the author was long AAPL.