The Fabulous Apple Cash Machine

Apple has enough cash for an outright purchase of General Electric or Wells Fargo or AT&T, the data shows. There is speculation that Apple will make a major acquisition: Companies like Netflix, Disney, Hulu and Tesla are on analysts’ lists.

But there is little sign right now that Apple intends to dispose of its money that way, in a gigantic acquisition. Instead, the company announced on Tuesday that it would expand its program of returning cash to shareholders in the form of dividends and stock buybacks. The numbers here, too, are so immense that they are hard to grasp.

In a conference call with stock analysts, Luca Maestri, Apple’s chief financial officer, said that since 2012, Apple’s buybacks and dividends amounted to $211.2 billion: The buybacks alone total $151 billion. Without those buybacks, which reduce Apple’s shares and total value, Apple’s market cap might already be as high as $900 billion (though without the buybacks, Apple’s stock price would be lower, so such calculations are inherently imprecise).

Furthermore, in the next two years, Mr. Maestri said, the company intends “to return $89 billion to our investors, which represents about 12 percent of our market cap at the current stock price.”

All of which is to say that if Apple’s cash machine keeps clicking, it could well become the first company with a $1 trillion market cap. But it would probably get there much faster if it were not sending so much cash back to investors.

The fact that it is doing so is great for shareholders, Mr. Damodaran said. It is displaying commendable discipline, he said, because Apple has had no better use for the money, either internally or with a big acquisition of a less-profitable or money-losing company.

Apple is already investing as much as it can in useful research and…

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