Who Should Apple Buy?

CUPERTINO, Calif. ( TheStreet) -- With $46 billion in cash and investments and no apparent plans to pay a dividend, Apple ( AAPL) has a war chest that most companies can only dream of. Could Apple boost its presence in the enterprise by buying Cisco ( CSCO) , EMC ( EMC) or even Dell ( DELL)?

" Apple's business model right now is very volatile," Joel Achramowicz, senior vice president of research at investment bank Blaylock Robert Van, told TheStreet. "They are a consumer company and consumer tastes change very fast -- an acquisition may offer them an entry into the enterprise market."

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Compared to other Silicon Valley heavyweights such as IBM ( IBM), Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) and Microsoft ( MSFT), Apple has done relatively little M&A. Its most notable recent deals include the buying of Quattro Wireless and P.A. Semi.

Now, however, some analysts are calling for Apple to dig a little deeper in enterprise infrastructure and software. "I wouldn't be surprised to see them make a play for a cloud-based company, a middleware company, or a hardware company that would let them play in the enterprise," said Achramowicz. "With this kind of war chest they could make a big, big, play."

Achramowicz also likes Dell, although its market cap of about $24 billion makes it an expensive buy and it would pose a massive integration headache for Apple: " Dell would, all of a sudden, put Apple into the systems business," he said.

"Buying Dell would actually be a very astute investment," explained Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, citing Dell's wealth of assets, business connections and strong Internet presence. "Dell's online sales expertise could provide an interesting counterpoint to Apple's remarkable exposure in the retail channel."

Earlier this year, at Apple's annual shareholder meeting, Steve Jobs said that he prefers holding onto the company's cash hoard for potential acquisitions and "bold" investments. Buying Dell would certainly qualify as a bold investment; King notes a few other buys that could lead Apple into the enterprise market.

"Another option would be pursuing a company with deep exposure in ties to traditional datacenters that also has a very future-focused strategy," he said. "Cisco and EMC come to mind, and the latter's majority position in VMware ( VMW) make it especially attractive."

This would represent a massive strategic change for Apple, taking the company well outside its consumer-serving comfort zone. Apple's success lies in its understanding of its customer base and ability to facilitate new lifestyle trends; some tech watchers wonder if buying a large media or cable company like Time Warner ( TWC) would be a logical choice.

"The company's cash assets could probably be put to better use making a major statement in media, either in pure ownership or as a deep-pocketed partner," King said. "If Jobs really has a better idea about how entertainment and content can be served up and consumed, why not go head to head against the naysayers in a pay-per-view cage match?"

--Written by James Rogers in New York.

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