The two fights over Apple's cash hoard

Cash dollars
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How much cash is too much cash? Looks like Apple will test the limits.

With its latest earnings report, which had blowout numbers in general, Apple's cash pile is roughly $155 billion, counting cash and marketable securities.

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On the one hand you could argue the company is being prudent, socking away money while times are good to help it out when times are bad. That kind of thinking usually appeals to folks who were raised on the fable of the grasshopper and the ant.

But it's not investor thinking, where money should work. Sure, Apple's cash hoard isn't all in cash. Much of it is in short-term and convertible securities. But in today's low-interest environment, that's not bringing in much.

No, from an investor point of view, that money should be doing much more, either through acquisitions or directly for the shareholders.

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So we can expect two arguments to reignite.

The first is Carl Icahn's demand that Apple return a good portion of that cash hoard to investors through stock buybacks. The activist investor has been making such demands since buying a position in the company last year. And the company acquiesced to a certain degree last February.

Icahn backed down for a time. But just last week he renewed his push, claiming the company would grow 80 percent over the next three years and that its stock was undervalued. Not everyone on Wall Street agreed with the outlook, but there was some sympathy for the sentiment.

But while pushing for the $100 billion buyback, Icahn said he wouldn't take it to a proxy fight.

The other fight will be over the tax code, since most of Apple's cash is parked overseas and out of reach of the IRS. Last year Apple CEO Tim Cook took some flak from Congress over the practice, but pointed out it was up to Congress itself to change the situation. He was just doing what was in the best interest of his shareholders.

But until the tax code is rewritten or a tax holiday granted, that money is likely to stay out of reach.