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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 09/29/2011

Silicon Valley and the next $100 billion stimulus

U.S. hundred-dollar bills. (bigstockphoto)
A handful of companies in the technology sector are sitting on a combined cash hoard of over $100 billion. The biggest cash reserve belongs to Apple, which is currently sitting on more than $76 billion in cash. Meanwhile, Google has $37 billion, Dell $11 billion, Qualcomm $5.6 billion and Accenture has $5.3 billion — all in cash on hand. To put this into perspective, the deficit-ridden Federal Government has less than $74 billion in cash at its disposal. At a time when every single measure to resuscitate the economy seems to have been exhausted, is it possible that Silicon Valley could be tapped to provide one last stimulus?

You can think of that $100 billion in cash the same way you would think about cash in your own personal portfolio: It’s nice to have around for a rainy day, but inflation gradually erodes its value over time. Hoarding cash on your balance sheet is the corporate world equivalent of hiding cash under your mattress and waiting for the right opportunity to come around. Which is why, of course, Wall Street investors and investment bankers have been putting so much pressure on companies like Apple to do something — anything — with all that cash.

These tech giants need to start thinking in terms of transforming cash flow into job flow. Put the cash to work on infrastructure projects that lead to real jobs. Google has acted on this front — the company has invested nearly $850 million in alternative energy projects, including new solar and wind projects across the country. There are countless other capital spending projects that these tech companies could work on, perhaps something along the lines of LightSquared’s attempt to build a $14 billion-dollar national high-speed wireless network.

Forget the usual Wall Street answers — like plumping up the dividend for stockholders, buying back shares or even buying another company. Increasing the dividend isn’t going to do much for the economy, especially in the short-run. Buying another company? It’s an easy way to put that cash to work and appease investors, but usually leads to job cuts, not job gains. Right now, the Wall Street is scouring the markets for “cheap” (i.e. undervalued) companies that Apple and Google could acquire. Why do you think Google eventually went all-in on its acquisition of Motorola Mobility? Even Motorola could only sop up $12.5 billion in cash, so just imagine what you could buy for $100 billion.

$100 billion is New Deal territory. As a result, maybe the best use of all that cash is on capital-intensive projects that can put engineers and skilled IT workers to work now. Now is Apple’s chance to do something big, something that people will be talking about as part of Steve Job’s final legacy. What if, on October 4, in addition to announcing whatever new technology the company plans to introduce, it also announces a massive capital spending project that acts as a stimulus for the economy? Steve Jobs joked at last year’s Apple shareholder meeting that he was going to "throw a toga party" with all that cash (back when Apple “only” had $40 billion in cash). Which, come to think of it, is probably not that much different from what many think Congress did with our earlier stimulus efforts.

Read more news about innovations:

How to create a nonprofit in Silicon Valley

The brotherhood of the Valley

Ideas@Innovations explores Silicon Valley

By  |  06:00 AM ET, 09/29/2011

Categories:  Dominic Basulto, Dominic Basulto, Morning Read, Technology

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