On the wee hours of June 21st, I wrote a post about “troubles” that Apple’s management is facing given the staggering amount of cash on it’s balance sheet. I speculated that Apple will have to decide to give out a special dividend, choose to acquire one or more companies or do both. I wrote the following in that post

It could do one of two things or a combination of the two, and, either way, for Apple, it will be a break from its past. So what are these two things? First, Apple could offer a large one time dividend (a la Microsoft in 2003) to shareholders, followed by regular quarterly dividends. Even though Apple is sitting on large piles of cash on its balance sheet, it will be under no pressure, at least not in the immediate future, to do this – for the simple reason that Investors are happy with the returns they are getting, despite Apple’s “inability” to reinvest that money.

That leads us to the second option in front of the mercurial gang from Cupertino. It could make strategic acquisition in the technology space, and there are a lot of attractive players in this space.

Furthermore I argued that Apple’s weakness is in cloud and not in software or hardware. That lead me to the conclusion that Apple would/should acquire an internet company – my picks were Twitter or Yahoo. Then in the comment section, Rajesh R Shenoy reminded me that Steve Jobs and Apple had a history with media and therefore a pure media company could also be a potential candidate. I meant this to mean a company like Netflix. I wrote the following in the comment section of that post:

Your point about media company  is a good one. I thought about Apple as a potential buyer for a company like Hulu. But I don’t think that is the kind of media company that Apple would be interested in. Apple already sells multimedia over iTunes. I am not sure how interested they will be in a low fixed monthly payment model approach taken by the likes of Hulu & Netflix.

I got two things right. First Apple will break tradition and will acquire larger companies. Second, as Apple tries to fill gaps in its portfolio of product offerings through acquisition, it confirmed my conclusion that weakness lies in cloud. How do I know this? Two stories – first about confirming that Apple is considering an acquisition bid for Hulu.

Apple Inc. , with $76.2 billion in cash and securities on its books, is considering making a bid for the Hulu online video service, two people with knowledge of the auction said.

Apple, the world’s second-most-valuable company, is in early talks that may lead to an offer for Hulu, said the people, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

Second is more of a confirmation from a third party - an analyst – that cloud is Apple’s weakness. I came across this video at the bottom of the bloomberg story on Apple’s potential hulu bid.

I also was right in considering Hulu as a potential acquisition target for Apple, yet I completely failed to see what Apple saw in Hulu. To be frank, I do not know what Apple sees in Hulu’s business model. Given Apple’s successes in the recent past, they obviously know infinitely more about running a technology company than this mere aficionado of technology.

People invest money in a business in order to take risk and to get a return beyond what they could get by just keeping it under the mattress or even depositing it in a savings account. While it might be important for companies to have large amounts of cash on their balance sheet, it is always kept for strategic investing purposes – like making an acquisition, or investing in new lines of business, major expansions etc. If all that an investor aspires from his investment is to get an interest rate, he/she could invest in a CD.

In the case of Apple, it is sitting on a ginormous stash of cash valued at 75 billion dollars. The “trouble” for Apple is that cash balance, in all likelihood, will spike further in the days, weeks, and quarters to come. For a company growing as fast as Apple, I do not see it investing that money in to organic expansion plans.

Secret to Apple’s success in recent years is its sharp focus on doing only a few things, and doing them extremely well. Apple has proven over the last few years that its new product lines, instead of being radically different from the existing ones, nicely compliment the existing ones. Apple has managed to create a whole array of products and product lines that work well as a complete ecosystem. R&D is not cheap, yet a new product line like the iPad could be created from the ground up with a really tiny fraction of that 75 billion dollars. So what is Apple to do with all that growing stash of cash?

It could do one of two things or a combination of the two, and, either way, for Apple, it will be a break from its past. So what are these two things? First, Apple could offer a large one time dividend (a la Microsoft in 2003) to shareholders, followed by regular quarterly dividends. Even though Apple is sitting on large piles of cash on its balance sheet, it will be under no pressure, at least not in the immediate future, to do this – for the simple reason that Investors are happy with the returns they are getting, despite Apple’s “inability” to reinvest that money.

That leads us to the second option in front of the mercurial gang from Cupertino. It could make strategic acquisition in the technology space, and there are a lot of attractive players in this space. However obvious this option may be to any other company, it is far from obvious for Apple to do such a thing. Apple has achieved all that growth without making any large acquisition, and I believe this has been a key to the success of Apple as a company – going back to my point about products complimenting each other and working well as one single ecosystem. Besides, acquiring and integrating another large organization is a risky, and tedious process. For a company that nurtures a special employee and customer culture, integrating an established alien work culture would be tricky, to say the least.

Let us just speculate for a moment that if Apple, indeed, were to acquire another company, which one should it be?

Before we answer that question, let us break down the Apple ecosystem for a moment –  one could break it down into 3 pieces – Mobile, Desktop, and cloud. In the mobile space they have the iPods, iPhones, iPads & iOS; in the desktop (including laptop), they have the MacOS books and cubes; and in the cloud they have the music, video, books etc. Then, of course, there is the Apple TV, which could, in the future, lead to a successful home entertainment console that, in addition to bringing multimedia into living rooms, could bring a lot of popular gaming. Apple also has its own browser, Safari, across all these platforms. Apple is gaining momentum and market share against competition in most of these product lines. If there is a slight weakness in their armor, it is in the cloud, especially communication, sharing, and social. Ping has not exactly been a rip-roaring success. More over, biggest success stories in the cloud/social space are not exactly cozy with Apple – Google and Facebook with its close ties to Microsoft.

First and most obvious candidate for potential acquisition, I will say, is Twitter. It is very successful, not quite as large as Facebook, and has not aligned itself with any other behemoth in the, increasingly, tripolar technology industry. Apple could easily digest this acquisition. Besides, iOS5 comes with Twitter integrated into the OS. They could easily integrate Twitter into iTunes, to iCloud, and into the Safari browser itself.

A more risky acquisition would be Yahoo.  Yahoo clearly is a company in decline, yet it has a lot of assets in the cloud that could be valuable to a company like Apple which is battling it out with other giants like Microsoft and Google. Yahoo has a few popular internet properties in news, finance, movies, email etc. Yahoo was once involved in a search engine project code named Panama, which they later canned in favor of a partnership with Bing. Apple could even breathe some new life into the search effort with Yahoo. Apple already has Safari browser that could be already collecting a lot of data valuable to search engine technology. Yahoo Search could become the default search across all Apple devices, and Yahoo Maps could become the default Map/Local application across those same devices. The biggest challenge for Apple, if they ever end up acquiring Yahoo, will be integrating a company that is on the fast elevator down on the track to oblivion, a company that lacks excitement, and (from what I have heard from former Yahoos) a company that has a lethargic culture. A lot of heads will need to roll to transform Yahoo culture into a winning culture that is Apple.

The “trouble” for Apple is the cash acquisition costs of these companies are likely to be replenished in the balance sheet in a couple of quarters. At the same time, a bad acquisition could cost the company dearly, not just the investment but the impact that a rotten apple could have on the barrel full of excellent ones.

I have said  many times before that Google is a one dimensional company that makes money from Ads, almost exclusively through their search engine service. Here is a break down of their revenue from ads.

Chief Minister (somewhat similar to a governor of state in the U.S) of my home state of Kerala in India has installed live webcam in his office, viewable to the public 24/7. He is doing it in the name of transparency, but kickbacks, bribes etc happen outside of these offices. Oommen Chandy, from what I can gather, is a decent man for a politician, but corruption is all pervasive in India from the very bottom all the way to the top.

Staying on the topic of transparency of public officials in India, here is another incredible piece of news about the email accounts the officials use for official business – Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, Gmail etc.

Another strike against Keynesianism – this time from near impossibility of executing “the plan”. Here is Larry Summers as quoted by Ezra Klein on his WP blog:

And even if Congress was willing to green-light more money, spending it turned out to be harder than the Keynesians had hoped. “Anybody who is honest and knowledgeable will say it is harder to move money quickly and well in reality than it is in the textbook model. I don’t think the idea that lots more money could have been moved is credible unless there had been a whole set of prior planning,” Summers says.