Cash is king. Cash lets companies grow through hard times, which is vital in technology. What investors forgot in 2022 is that tech has always been a boom-and-bust business. If you’re making computer chips or building clouds, you have enormous capital needs. You must invest through the business cycle. Cash is how you do it. So, it pays to be one of the top cash-rich stocks.
Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) was once a prime example. For years, under leaders like the late, legendary Andy Grove, Intel refused to offer a dividend. Tech companies that paid dividends didn’t have anything better to do with shareholders’ money.
This changed in the 21st century. Intel’s dividend now yields over 5%. It has been fat for years. It was supposed to help Intel stock compete for investor cash against rivals Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA) and Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ:AMD), which didn’t pay a dividend.
But by focusing on chip design and contracting manufacturing, NVDA and AMD passed INTC in market cap. When trouble came the dividend was no protection for Intel stock. Intel lost almost half its value in 2022. It still had $27 billion in cash on its books in Sept., but it now needs U.S. government aid to “inshore” production to Ohio.
Most companies in this gallery are what I call “Cloud Czars.” Like cash-rich stocks, such as Intel, they have huge capital budgets, built entirely with cash. Their giant data centers are built with cash flow, but they also keep mountains of cash on hand in case the cash flow runs low, as it has this year. Contrast this with AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon (NYSE:VZ). They defined infrastructure in the 20th century. They built with debt. Since the start of the 21st century AT&T stock is down by half and Verizon by one-third.
This is a tough time for tech. Nearly all tech stocks are down. The Cloud Czars are down more than most. But it’s when a well-run company’s stock is down that you buy it. Buy low, sell high.
On the other hand, if you just don’t like tech, I do have a non-tech stock to suggest. It has tons of cash on the books. You can probably guess what it is.
Cash-Rich Stocks: Apple (AAPL)
One of the biggest cash-rich stocks to own is Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), the King of Wall Street. With a market cap of $2.27 trillion, it had sales of almost $400 billion in the last 12 months. It reported one-quarter of that as net income. What stands out is its cash, $36 billion, and operating cash flow, $122 billion over the last year. This supports a capital budget of $11 billion/year and dividends of nearly $15 billion.
While Apple has been volatile, its value down 22% in 2022, it’s up 213% over the last 5 years, while paying a steady stream of dividends that are up 43% in that time. Before co-founder Steve Jobs’ death in 2011, it had paid no dividends for nearly 17 years. The stock is now worth 10 times what it was at Jobs’ death, which is why it’s said Apple is a stock you own, not a stock you trade.
This year Apple’s share price has tracked that of the NASDAQ market. Small wonder when it represents a full 7% of NASDAQ’s $30.47 trillion market cap total. But long-term investors (like me) who have held the stock for 5 years have done four times better than the average.
Cash-rich stocks like Apple does best when times are good. Times are not good right now. But no tech company has a firmer hold on its own supply chain, its sales channel, or its after-market services than Apple. Few balance sheets are stronger. It’s a sturdy place for your money to be.
Another one of the top cash-rich stocks is Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), the second-largest stock in the country by market cap, worth $1.79 trillion in early Nov. It had sales of $200 billion over the most recent 12 months, reporting a staggering 35% of that as net income in its most recent quarter. At the end of Sept., it also had an immense cash stash of $107 billion.
Unlike Apple, Microsoft remains cash flow positive, with net cash increasing by nearly $9 billion during the most recent quarter. This came despite covering almost $25 billion in new investment during the previous 12 months and making $18 billion in dividend payments.
Despite this success, Microsoft stock is down by one-third this year, although over the last five years it’s up 168%. During those five years, the dividend is also up 47%, to 62 cents. This means those who have held the stock for 5 years are getting a yield of over 3%, at the stock’s current price.
Microsoft seemed to dominate the computing world under co-founder Bill Gates, so much so that it was deemed a monopoly by the courts. But it’s current CEO Satya Nadella, who took over in early 2014, that has brought the company to glory. He did this by committing the company completely to the cloud, a decision that costs $5 billion/quarter in cash. But the stock is up almost 500% since he took over. Gates, who became a full-time philanthropist after retirement, is still worth over $100 billion.
Technical indicators on Microsoft remain bearish. That’s fine if you’re a trader, with a time horizon measured in days or months. If you’re investing for the decades ahead, this is an easy stock to own.
Cash-Rich Stocks: Alphabet (GOOG GOOGL)
Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) has the third-largest market cap of any U.S. stock, about $1.21 trillion. It’s another one of the top cash-rich stocks to consider, with sales of almost $210 billion in the first three quarters of 2022. In the most recent quarter, it reported nearly one-quarter of that money as net income.
Alphabet was barely cash flow positive in the third quarter. It had $116 billion in cash and securities on the books at the end of Sept., against $14.6 billion in long-term debt. Operating cash flow, however, was nearly $25 billion, in what was considered a down quarter. Cash fell because few companies have Alphabet’s capital budget. In just the first three quarters of 2022, it spent $24 billion, mostly on cloud data centers. That is as much as it spent in all of 2021. It has also bought back $67 billion of stock this year.
Despite this, the value of Alphabet is down nearly 40% in 2022. The main culprit is advertising, where operating income fell in September from the previous quarter. Aware of this vulnerability, Google has been putting enormous effort into getting enterprise customers for its Google Cloud service, which scored a quarter-to-quarter sales growth of 37%. But that came at a cost. Google Cloud lost nearly $700 million in the third quarter. Overall quarterly earnings were down 18%. Alphabet may continue to fall for a while. But it has plenty of cash to keep growing its cloud footprint. At some point, the value of that footprint will tell.
Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) lost over half its value in the last year. It was recently worth “just” $940 billion. In its latest quarterly report, this included over $35 billion in cash. Unlike most companies, Amazon always puts its cash flow statement first in its quarterly reports.
Amazon was built on cash flow. Cash flow for clouds, cash flow for warehouses, cash flow for trucks. Most of the cash came from competitors, who rented those clouds, warehouses, and trucks, along with the software driving them. Amazon’s cash drove down its cost of doing business, it shared the savings, and this became the source of its success. It’s another one of the top cash-rich stocks to own.
This has been a tough first year for Andy Jassy. The former Amazon Web Services head replaced Jeff Bezos as CEO a year ago. Bezos was overbuilt during the pandemic. Growth has slowed, and profits have disappeared. It’s the first time in its history the company has had to cut back. The 45% fall in its market cap this year is valid. But the economy will come back.
There remain huge markets in banking and health care for Amazon to pursue. The company has, along with its competitors, launched a standard called Matter for voice services. This will boost its Alexa service. Amazon is also winning the streaming wars. It will also pursue all these opportunities with cash. In addition, Amazon had more cash on its books last Sept. than at the same point in 2021. More cash will flow.
Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-B)
Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-B) is the real King of Cash, making it another key cash-rich stock.
Combined with its cash, short-term government T-bills, and fixed maturity investments, and Berkshire had $123.8 billion in cash and cash equivalents at the end of Sept. That’s one reason the stock is down less than 3% this year. Another is the over $100 billion in operating cash flow it generated in the last year, $27 billion in the Sept. quarter alone. Even though its equity portfolio is down a whopping $44 billion since December, that portfolio is still worth $306 billion.
This means the actual business of Berkshire Hathaway, including its vast railroad and electricity operations, was valued at just $240 billion in early November. Annual revenues are about $280 billion. Take out its losses on investments, and foreign exchange and Berkshire operations would have been profitable.
The main business of cash-rich stocks, like Berkshire Hathaway, is insurance. Only about 18% of revenue comes from its vast holdings in railroads, energy, manufacturing, and distribution. This includes everything from one of the country’s largest electric grid operations, to the Burlington Northern railroad, to Dairy Queen and distributor McLane. Berkshire Hathaway is involved in nearly all forms of insurance, from personal to business, from first-dollar coverage of your car to the biggest reinsurance pools. GEICO is Berkshire Hathaway. So are U.S. Liability, HomeServices of America, and General Re.
It’s these operations that are the real source of Berkshire’s wealth. Insurance is a bet on disasters. If there’s no disaster, the insurer keeps your premium. If there are a lot of disasters, the insurer can raise prices. Over the long run profits are guaranteed.
Those profits must be invested. Warren Buffett, whose investments built the business, still does a lot of the investing. A few years ago, day traders fell over themselves criticizing the “Oracle of Omaha.” It turns out Berkshire isn’t a great investment in good times. But when there’s “blood in the streets,” when cash is hard to come by, that’s when Buffett swoops. That’s when his shareholders win.
But don’t think that if God calls Buffett home tomorrow you should sell your Berkshire stock. He has a deep bench of good executives. The break-up value of the company is greater than its $640 billion market cap. All that investment cash is gravy.
On the date of publication, Dana Blankenhorn held long positions in INTC, NVDA, AMD, AAPL, MSFT, GOOGL, and AMZN. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.