Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s cash pile just keeps growing and growing, and the search giant keeps spending and spending on capital expenditures and acquisitions. In spite of all that spending, however, at the current rate, Google’s net cash will one day hit a value that’s higher than the current enterprise value of all but 16 other companies that trade on U.S. stock exchanges, according to Bernstein analysts.
So what could Google do with all that dough? There are plenty of directions in which Google could go.
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Google’s cash soars
In a report dated Oct. 31, 2014, analyst Carlos Kirjner also said that his calculations suggest that within the next three years, Google will have the second highest net cash balance among companies that are traded on U.S. stock exchanges. In addition, he estimates that Google will have the highest net cash balance among companies that are traded on U.S. exchanges and don’t pay dividends or buy back shares.
So why is activist investor Carl Icahn (and apparently others) so set on Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) returning more of its cash stash to shareholders while Google gets a free pass? The search giant’s earnings reports tell more of the story.
Google spends… and spends
For one thing, Google saw its cash and marketable securities balance rise by approximately $4 billion over the last three quarters. That’s even though the company spent a ton on capital expenditures. Google is rapidly building out its data center infrastructure and acquiring more real estate.
Kirjner and his team estimate that Google spent $3.5 billion or more in incremental capital expenditures compared to what it usually spends this year. The search giant also acquired over 30 companies this year. They believe that this year’s acquisition rate would be within the top three years for spending if they ranked acquisitions per year for the last decade.
The Bernstein analyst believes Google’s spending will begin to wind down over the next few quarters, however. As a result, he estimates that next year, the company will generate about $14 billion in free cash flow, and next year, he calculates that Google will generate about $16 billion in free cash flow.
Kirjner stated in his report that Google is essentially destroying shareholder value. Of course the company continues to make the same argument all technology companies make—including Apple—and that is “strategic flexibility.”
He states that while Google does have plenty of opportunities and must remain “well-funded,” the company does not need any more than $60 billion in net cash to do what it needs to do to be flexible enough to compete successfully and grow.
The analyst suggests that Google could take on more debt since currently it has only about 2% of its market capitalization in debt. He also suggests that the search giant could issue more shares to make acquisitions or even pay the 30% tax rate to repatriate some of its cash.
What could Google do?
In order to offer some suggestions on what Google might do with all of its cash in the next few years, Kirjner looked at the company’s spending habits. For example, all but one of its acquisitions (Motorola) was less than $10 billion. However, Google essentially offset the difference by selling part of the business. The Bernstein analyst believes that in order to move the needle on its cash balance though, Google would need multiple acquisitions that are at least $25 billion.
So what are the possibilities? The analyst said some have asked whether Google may acquire a mobile carrier or at least some wireless spectrum, but he sees this as being “farfetched” but possible. The search giant may want a content company, but again, he thinks this is unlikely.
And then there are the suggestions that Google might acquire eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY) or PayPal after the two companies separate. He’s skeptical about these possibilities as well, mainly because they would each cost about $45 billion. He also doesn’t see the point of Google owning eBay Marketplaces, although he gives a “slightly” greater chance that the company might gobble up PayPal.