NEW YORK (AP) — Apple Inc.'s iPad-fueled cash pile, the largest in corporate America, is now almost double that of No. 2 Microsoft Corp.
The five U.S. companies with the largest cash stockpiles accounted for $276 billion, or 22 percent, of non-financial corporate cash balances last year, according to a new report from Moody's Investors Service.
Apple led the pack with $97.6 billion in cash, followed by Microsoft Corp. with $51.74 billion and Cisco Systems Inc. with $46.74 billion. Google Inc. came in fourth with $44.63 billion and Pfizer Inc. finished out the top five with $35.25 billion, Moody's said.
Unless Apple changes its cash philosophy and starts buying back stock or paying a dividend, the company could account for about $150 billion, or 12 percent, of total corporate cash by itself by the end of this year, up from $97 billion, or 8 percent, at the end of 2011.
Companies like big cash stockpiles, because they offer the flexibility to pay off debt and weather an economic downturn if they have to. Lots of cash also makes it easier and cheaper for the companies to get needed financing, make acquisitions and get higher credit ratings.
But at the same time, those piles of cash can also frustrate investors, who would rather see it returned to their pockets through dividends and stock buybacks.
Of the top five, Microsoft, Cisco and Pfizer currently pay regular dividends to shareholders.
The Moody's report looked at the corporate cash balances of non-financial U.S. companies rated by the agency. Compared with a year ago, the combined cash of the five companies rose about a third from $207 billion. That was then 17 percent of overall total, according to the report.
The total cash held by all of the U.S. non-financial companies rated by Moody's increased 3 percent to $1.24 trillion as of the end of last year, the ratings service said.