Apple has a history of choosing cash over startups

Apple has more cash than any other technology company on the planet. Yet, to date, that hasn’t translated into spending on acquisitions.

Over the past five years, Apple has spent the least on MA out of all the “Big Five” most valuable U.S. technology companies, a Crunchbase News analysis finds. That’s despite the fact that it is estimated to have more than $260 billion in cash and cash equivalents, including money parked in overseas accounts.

So is it buying time yet? While this week’s $400 million acquisition of music discovery app Shazam indicates a willingness to make big-ticket purchases, history shows Apple has made these kinds of large deals pretty rarely.

The numbers

Since 2013, the iPhone maker shelled out a total of $5.1 billion in disclosed MA deals, according to Crunchbase data. More than half of that went to a single transaction: the 2014, purchase of music technology company Beats Electronics for $3 billion.

Looking at deal count alone, Apple looks like a pretty active buyer. Since 2013, Apple bought 55 private companies, of which 11 had a reported price. The $5.1 billion figure includes only those 11 companies.

The remaining 44 companies that Apple bought for undisclosed sums are primarily early-stage startups. While purchase prices can’t be confirmed, such deals are generally well below $100 million and commonly total a few million dollars.

In the chart below, we look at Apple’s track record for MA over the past five years. Deal count has ranged from a low of eight acquisitions to a high of 13.

Apple’s rank in the Big Five

When it comes to buying startups, Apple isn’t really the least acquisitive of the Big Five (which also includes Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Google).

Amazon is actually the stingiest when it comes to shelling out for venture-backed companies. While the e-commerce giant has spent more on MA than Apple in recent years, that’s almost entirely due to its recent purchase of a public company, Whole Foods, for $13.7 billion.

That said, Apple is a stupendously profitable company, while Amazon is best known for generating enormous revenues on thin-to-nonexistent profit margins. So it’s not exactly an apples to apples comparison, pardon the pun. Moreover, Apple hasn’t exhibited an appetite for buying public companies in recent years.

By deal count, meanwhile, Apple is about in the middle of the Big Five. Its tally of acquisitions is higher than Facebook or Amazon, on par with Microsoft, and far below Google.

In the chart below, we look at deal counts for acquisitions by the Big Five over the past five years, along with disclosed spending.

Spending spree ahead?

There are some reasons to think Apple will be more acquisitive in coming quarters, particularly for deals involving U.S. companies.

Tax code changes could be a factor. U.S. lawmakers appear close to passing a tax bill that will make it cheaper for companies to repatriate money currently held overseas. That could potentially provide a bigger domestic cash stash for Apple to buy American companies. Lower corporate tax rates should also help make that enormous stockpile even bigger.

Apple also has laid out a strategy to move more manufacturing to the U.S., and that could spur deals. This week, the company announced a $390 million investment in Texas-based Finisar, which makes components used in iPhone X cameras. While not an acquisition, the investment does demonstrate a willingness to spend heavily on developers of technologies that give its products a competitive edge.

So will 2018 be the year when Apple finally goes on a buying binge worthy of its massive cash holdings? While it seems compelling for many reasons to say yes, one also can’t help note that Apple didn’t accumulate that stockpile by being excessively spendy. And so far, it hasn’t needed a lot of pricey startup purchases to maintain its place as the world’s most valuable public technology company.

Featured Image: Li-Anne Dias