For the first time in a decade, Apple is not the world leader in terms of how much cash it has on hand.
The baton has passed to Google parent company Alphabet, which now has $117 billion net cash, compared to Apple’s $102 billion, the Financial Times reported Thursday.
This does not mean Alphabet has been doing vastly better than Apple; it’s more a matter of different strategies between the companies. Apple, which in 2017 held a record $163 billion, has been reducing its cash mound on purpose, starting with the introduction of a tax reform that year which made it easier for multinational giant corporations to repatriate the cash they had overseas. The company used some of the money on stock buybacks and dividends, effectively reducing its cash position.
Alphabet has been doing something similar but to a far lesser extent, and not all of its shareholders have been too happy about it. The FT says Alphabet has added $25 billion to its stock buyback program last week, which should help alleviate some pressure from the shareholders, though one analyst FT spoke with says this won’t be enough to actually reduce the company’s cash reserves.
Furthermore, Alphabet’s title of the most cash-rich company is hardly ideal given the company has paid 8.2 billion euros worth of antitrust fines in the European Union in the past two years.
Note that there are different ways to measure how much cash a company has; the FT looks at cash minus debt, but Bloomberg, for example, typically reports on cash total, which is a far bigger number. By that measure, Apple’s mountain of cash was as high as $285 billion in December 2017.