Flush with cash, big companies are ready to buy up rivals and reward investors
Microsoft’s massive acquisition of Activision Blizzard is notable for several reasons, not the least of which is that it’s spending nearly $70 billion -— in cash — to make the deal. That means Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is essentially going to write a check for Activision Blizzard.
Many big mergers are financed by issuing stock, or at the very least, with a mix of new shares and some cash. But Microsoft had $130.6 billion in cash on its balance sheet at the end of September, so the software giant will still have more than $60 billion left after the takeover is completed.
And Microsoft isn’t the only company sitting on a monumental pile of cash, funds which might now get put to use as interest rates rise and investors start to worry about an economic slowdown and more stock market volatility.
As a result, the Big Tech companies that are flush with Benjamins may look to spend while the proverbial iron is still hot.
Apple had $190.5 billion in cash on hand at the end of the third quarter of last year. Google owner Alphabet had $142 billion. Amazon had $79 billion. And Facebook parent Meta Platforms had $58.1 billion.
Apple already uses some of its money to pay a quarterly cash dividend to shareholders. So does Microsoft. The other top tech firms do not and are not expected to start doing so any time soon.
But each of them — with the notable exception of Amazon — have been recently putting cash to work to buy back stock. Investors typically love buybacks because they lower the number of shares a company has, which tends to boost earnings per share.
According to S&P Dow Jones Indices, Apple, Alphabet, Meta Platforms, software giant Oracle and Microsoft accounted for the most stock buybacks in the third quarter. And it’s likely that top companies will continue to repurchase stock, especially if the market remains volatile.
“At this point, a slight market downturn or correction could also see additional buying, as companies with strong (and expected strong) cash-flow stock up on shares,” Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices, said in a report last month.
SIlverblatt noted that buybacks during the fourth quarter will likely top the record $235 billion announced in the third quarter last year. And buybacks for all of 2021 should exceed the previous annual high of $806 billion from 2018.
Like Microsoft, big companies will probably continue using more of their cash on acquisition deals as well. S&P Global Market Intelligence noted in a report this week that the value of announced mergers in North America soared more than 80% in 2021, to nearly $2.46 trillion.
Oracle announced last month that it was spending $28.3 billion in cash to buy healthcare software firm Cerner.
Large companies with tons of liquidity may also feel a sense of urgency to do more deals now before potential rules changes in Washington lead to more scrutiny and outright rejection of mergers.
Analysts at the Wells Fargo Investment Institute said in a report last week that cash-rich companies will probably consider doing more deals sooner rather than later due to “expectations of a more hostile regulatory environment.”
Some companies are also using cash to give workers raises as well. Goldman Sachs said Tuesday that compensation expenses soared 33% last year. Rival Morgan Stanley disclosed in its earnings report Wednesday that its compensation expenses were up nearly 20%.
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