Apple has typically not made large acquisitions. Its largest-ever deal, buying headphone maker Beats for $3 billion in 2014, pales in comparison to Google (googl) paying $12.5 billion for Motorola or Microsoft’s (msft) $26 billion LinkedIn purchase (though there were unconfirmed reports Apple wanted to buy Time Warner in 2016).
Instead, Apple occasionally buys smaller companies. And in keeping with that pattern, Apple reportedly paid $400 million for music identification service Shazam last month.
But this year, the iPhone maker plans to bring back a large part of its $250 billion in cash held overseas after recent legislation reduced the tax bill on doing so. With so much money available, some analysts and other Apple watchers sense the possibility of a larger deal.
Here are some of the possibilities mentioned, from large to small:
Could Apple buy Tesla or Netflix?
The smartphone market has matured and the tablet market has been shrinking, so Apple may be in search of entirely new areas to conquer. That leads Brian Sozzi, executive editor at TheStreet.com, to suggest that Apple should buy Netflix (nflx) or Tesla (tsla).
“Investors should be a little worried that Apple will squander this opportunity to move beyond the iPhone,” Sozzi writes. “I am talking about spending $130 billion to buy Netflix (market cap now $94 billion) or $75 billion on Tesla (market cap currently $58 billion). It’s great Apple is betting on itself with its cash but part of that should include making bets on the future with other companies.”
As mentioned, Apple has never done a large deal, and Citi analyst Jim Suva recently put the chance of a Netflix buyout at only 40%.
Medium-size targets for Apple
If Apple is uninterested in a huge takeover, perhaps a more medium-sized deal could happen, Gene Munster, a longtime Apple analyst who is now a managing partner at venture capital firm Loup Ventures, says in an interview with news site Business Insider.
Apple is already talking up its efforts to create products for virtual and augmented reality, so perhaps the much-hyped startup Magic Leap could be a target, according to Munster. The company, which was most recently valued at $6 billion in a private fundraising, is producing a set of augmented reality goggles.
Apple is also pushing into health and fitness markets with its smartwatch, so the company may be interested in buying high-end equipment maker Peloton, which also offers virtual fitness classes, Munster said.
Small semiconductor companies
Pitchbook, which tracks M&A deals worldwide, sees some possible acquisition targets for Apple in Israel. Specifically, Apple could expand its in-house microprocessor and semiconductor capabilities. MultiPhy, for example, makes chips to enable high-speed connections between computers and Valens Semiconductor makes chips for transmitting ultra high-definition video.
Nothing/stock buybacks and dividends
By far the most likely outcome, however, is that CEO Tim Cook sticks with the current formula of using most of the company’s cash for stock buybacks and dividends to shareholders. Analysts say Apple could afford to buy back a ton of its own stock, maybe 25%, which in theory could make the remaining shares more valuable.