Apple and its Non-Acquisitions

on July 29, 2011

Over at Technologizer, Harry McCracken has an excellent rundown on the long history of rumored acquisitions by Apple that never came to pass. Some of these hypothetical deals made at least superficial sense, most didn’t.

Here’s one test to apply to any talk of an Apple deal: Margin dilution. When financial analysts talk of dilution, they are referring to how the costs of an acquisition will reduce the equity of existing shareholders. Apple’s enormous market cap means that is rarely going to be a huge problem, but a company like Apple is going to be very wary of any acquisition that would seriously erode its very healthy profit margins.

That’s one overwhelming reason why Apple would be very unlikely to give more than about 10 second’s’ consideration to the rumored purchase of  Barnes & Noble. On the roughest sort of pro forma calculation, an Apple-Barnes & Noble merger would have reduced Apple’s profit margin in the most recent fiscal year from 23.5% to 21.9%. At most companies, a point and a half of margin is something to kill for. Since B&N offers no technology that Apple wants (strategic investments can be viewed through a different lens than purely financial ones) and  would saddle Apple with a great deal of real estate that it has no use for, the deal makes no sense on any level.