PALO ALTO, Calif. (CNN/Money) -
Apple Computer knows all about being bruised -- and about regaining its shine. From personal computer pioneer to industry doormat to beloved design innovator, Apple's ride has never been linear.
It even suffered the indignity of a bailout by arch-foe Microsoft (MSFT: down $1.63 to $54.36, Research, Estimates), which made a crucial cash investment in Apple in 1997, around the time CEO Steve Jobs returned to the company he co-founded.
And the worm has turned again, with Apple (AAPL: down $3.03 to $17.12, Research, Estimates) disappointing investors by warning Tuesday, early into a new product cycle, that revenues are lagging. The corporate market stinks and key regions like Europe and Japan are hurting. No surprises there.
But investors lopped 15 percent off Apple's market value Wednesday, sending its shares down to around $17, about where they were in late 2000, the last time the company suffered a major disappointment.
Considering that Apple has about $11 per share of cash on its balance sheet, it's fair to ask the question nagging at some opportunistic investors: Wouldn't someone want to buy the whole company? For just $6 per share -- about $2 billion -- plus Apple's own cash, you could own this proud company with a colorful past and promising future.
Not for a billion dollars
The response by anyone who knows Apple: No way.
For starters, Apple is run like a quasi-private company. To its credit. CEO Jobs, the largest single shareholder, owns only 5.85 percent of the shares, according to the company's most recent proxy statement. But he holds an effective veto on any major transaction that wouldn't be to his liking. The company dreams up nifty new products, markets to its faithful users as well as the marginal candidates for abandoning the Wintel world, and doesn't suffer too badly for being a market share also-ran.
RECENTLY BY ADAM LASHINSKY
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Sure, there are people behind the scenes who make Apple tick, other than Jobs. This is no Martha Stewart Omnimedia (MSO: up $2.05 to $16.45, Research, Estimates), which also has talented pros but relies heavily Martha's creativity and visibility. (What exactly does that company become when Martha can't host a TV show or pose for a cover photo?) But without Jobs, you simply wouldn't want to own the company. We've seen this movie before.
Then there's the issue of who'd want to buy it. Sony might be a candidate, but Sony wouldn't want the nightmare of integrating technologies in conflict with its own. The same argument would hold for other consumer electronics giants. Each would be concerned about killing off the golden goose. Or at least they should be. Dell or IBM? Dell especially could be a good fit, but can you see Steve working for Michael? And Dell has so far avoided using acquisitions to grow his company. As for IBM, it's de-emphasizing PCs, not adding to its portfolio.
One outside-the-box scenario would be Disney buying Apple to marry colorful content with stylish technology. The bonus for Disney shareholders would be the addition of Jobs, who would almost certainly jump at the opportunity to be CEO of the company. (Jobs knows Disney well, through the rocky yet lucrative relationship between it and his animation shop Pixar (PIXR: up $0.70 to $42.00, Research, Estimates).)
But my bet is that Apple will continue to focus on innovation, rise and fall with product cycles and fickle markets, and keep its place as a quirky cross between technological innovator and slick consumer marketeer. And would that be so bad? Given its huge cash position and relatively low market value, Apple represents one of the least risky ways to invest in the personal computer business.
Adam Lashinsky is a senior writer for Fortune magazine. Send e-mail to Adam at email@example.com.
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