eBay's ( EBAY) pile of cash has grown to stratospheric levels, leading some investors to wonder when the company might start sharing the wealth.

The online auction giant's cash position stood at $1.7 billion as of Dec. 31, an amount that dwarfs its typical needs for working cash or capital expenditures.

So far, the company has largely avoided sharing its horde with its investors: eBay has never paid a cash dividend and never engaged in any large-scale stock-buyback program. Instead, it's gone the opposite direction, continuing to accumulate millions of dollars each quarter through employees' stock options exercises. (When employees exercise and sell options, companies receive the cash raised from such sales up to the exercise price.)

All this leads some observers to wonder when enough cash is enough.

"You're buying into an operating company, not a bank account," said Charles Elson, a business professor at the University of Delaware who chairs the school's corporate governance center. "At some point investors will say, 'Buy back the stock. Give me a dividend.' "

eBay representatives did not return calls seeking comment. But in its annual report, eBay cast doubt on whether it would initiate a dividend anytime soon.

"We currently anticipate that we will continue to retain any future earnings to finance the growth of our business," the company said.

Investors shouldn't be satisfied with that answer, said Beth Young, a senior research associate at the Corporate Library, a corporate governance research firm, who argued that the lack of candor from eBay about plans for its cash stash is a concern.

"I think shareholders are entitled to understand, if value is not going be returned to them in the form of a dividend or a share buyback, what's in store," Young said.

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