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Apple Is Doing Nothing With Its $206 Billion Cash Pile. Here's a Possible Shopping List.

That cash horde must be burning a hole in Apple's pocket.

Ersin KISACIK / iStock / Re/code

Apple is sitting on a cash hoard of nearly $206 billion — the bulk of it held outside the U.S.

What might the world’s most valuable publicly traded company need with a cash reserve roughly the size of the gross domestic product of the Czech Republic?

Investors like Carl Icahn might argue (as he often does) that Apple could be sending more of that money back to shareholders. But Apple has that base covered, returning almost $50 billion to shareholders in fiscal 2015 through dividends and share repurchases. The folks in Washington, D.C., might want some of that offshore money — $187 billion is held outside the U.S. — repatriated to cover part of the $50 billion in additional spending anticipated in the budget deal struck between Congress and President Obama.

But mainly, Apple could and should invest this big pile of cash in ways that would reward investors and diversify a product portfolio that’s overly reliant on the iPhone, which accounts for 62 percent of the company’s revenue. Let’s be honest: Apple’s newest product, the Apple Watch, isn’t exactly a billion-dollar business yet.

Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook talked Tuesday about how the company made 15 acquisitions to “accelerate our roadmap” for products and services. None of these deals are likely to be as large as, say, the $3 billion Beats acquisition. Apple surely has the wherewithal, though, to flash serious cash to accelerate its reported plans for an electric vehicle. Any one of the following acquisitions might get the iCar on the road before the target date of 2019.

Tesla Motors, the Silicon Valley electric car company with some Apple DNA (perhaps owing to the number of people it has hired out of Cupertino), would be an ideal candidate. Its $27 billion market value would put it within easy reach for Apple — that is, if it could convince founder Elon Musk that such a marriage would be mutually beneficial. Apple investors even suggested a merger at the company’s annual shareholders meeting.

Perhaps German automaker BMW is more to Apple’s tastes, since it’s the car brand most frequently equated with Apple and it already has two electric vehicles on the road — the compact i3 and the i8 plug-in hybrid supercar. Perhaps Apple CEO Tim Cook was kicking the tires (literally) last year during his visit to the carmaker’s headquarters and tour of the Leipzig factory where it manufactures the i3. BMW’s market value is about $60 billion, making it a bit of a pricy acquisition.

Ride-sharing company Uber also is speeding down the road toward a future autonomous vehicle, though its market valuation is moving faster. The company is looking to raise another $1 billion, which would peg its worth at $60 billion to $70 billion, more than Ford or General Motors. Might Apple consider a match with a company whose on-demand transportation service is powered by the smartphone and which shares a fascination with the China market?

These sorts of big-ticket acquisitions would fly in the face of Apple’s past business practices. Maybe it’s time to think different?

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