The Wall Street Journal and other reputable news sources posted headlines Wednesday that boasted "Apple Now Holds 10% Of All Corporate Cash: Moody's" and "Apple is sitting on 10% of all US corporate cash."
To put this in perspective: 10% of all corporate cash in the U.S. is equivalent to $147 billion. This is the largest amount of cash held by any non-financial company in the U.S. and twice the amount of cash held by the second place company at $77 billion.
But before you wring your arms in bewilderment at the ludicrous size of Apple's cash stockpile that only seems to keep growing, take a closer look at where that money is being held, and just how fluid and accessible it really is.
According to an internal document dated May 21, 2013, $102 billion of the total $145 billion cash Apple held at that time was overseas. That's roughly 70% of Apple's cash that would likely never appear in U.S. markets. Not only is cash not mobile, but if Apple ever wanted to transfer its overseas holdings to the U.S., all of that cash would be subject to a heavy U.S. corporate tax. Apple would never allow this to happen since it has parked its cash abroad in the first place to (legally) avoid this corporate tax.
In order to get a more accurate read on Apple's wealth and influence in the U.S., we should look at the ratio of Apple's corporate cash held in the U.S. to the total amount of corporate cash held by non-financial institutions in the U.S., rather than calculate the ratio of all of Apple's corporate cash to the total amount of corporate cash held by non-financial U.S. companies, which results in rather arbitrary and meaningless data.
If the corrected calculations still show that Apple owns 10% or more of all corporate cash held by non-financial companies in the U.S., then we must question whether large corporations are unfairly dominating the playing field and kicking small businesses out of the game. But if the results show that Apple in fact owns much less than that, then we can all breathe a sigh of relief and hope that it stays this way.