MONEY stocks

How Owning Apple Stock is Now Like Owning Bonds

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Inside Apple's balance sheet is a whole lot of cash and bonds. Jesus Jauregui—Getty Images

Apple's stock split makes it easier to buy. But you'll get a big bond fund as part of the bargain.

By splitting its shares 7-for-1 today, Apple has made its stock more easily accessible to retail investors. But of course if you have any money at all in an equity mutual fund, you almost certainly own a chunk of Apple APPLE INC. AAPL 0.0099% . The stock is 3.11% of the S&P 500 S&P 500 INDEX SPX 0.295% , making it the biggest name in the index.

What you get if you own Apple is, of course, a world-beating consumer technology company. But you also get a huge chunk of cash and bonds—about $150 billion worth, or 27% of Apple’s total market value. One way to wrap your head around how much extra money Apple is managing is to compare it to the biggest bond mutual funds in the country. If Apple’s fixed-income portfolio were a fund, its only real peers would be the giant Pimco and Vanguard portfolios, the mainstay core holdings in many 401(k) plans.

Source: Morningstar, Apple
Source: Morningstar, Apple

If you’ve ever scratched your head and wondered why investors complain about Apple’s cash, as if being wildly successful at pulling in profits is a bad thing, this is why. If you have money to put in the market and wanted some of it to go into bonds, you could hand that money over to Pimco and Vanguard and get a reliable return. No one needs Apple CEO Tim Cook to be a bond manager.

Cook knows that, which is why Apple has announced it plans to return $130 billion in cash to shareholder via dividends and stock buybacks by the end of 2015. Of course, even if it does that, it would still have loads of cash on hand—the company generated about $36 billion in cash flow from operations in the six months ended March 31. That alone is enough to do twelve more Beats-sized deals. (One odd wrinkle: To get cash back to shareholders, Apple is actually borrowing. It’s a tax thing.)

Bottom line: If you buy Apple today, between now and the end of next year, you’ll get a lot of that money back and will have to figure out somewhere else to invest. Another portion will earn modest returns. And then you hope the rest is invested back in the business or in smart acquisitions in a way that continues to power growth forward. Shawn Tully over at Fortune.com thinks Apple is just too big to deliver the kind of growth Apple fans hope for. Then again, if you subtract Apple’s “bond fund” from its market value, you get the part of the business that’s still a tech company for about 11 times the past year’s earnings, compared to just under 20 for the S&P 500. Assuming you think Cook won’t waste the cash, that doesn’t sound like such a terrible deal.

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