"There is a lot of discussion over what Apple will do next—people are talking about a car of some sort—and there's been talk about television for years," said Scott Kessler, who heads technology equity research at S&P Capital IQ. "One would think there are plans for that money," Kessler said of Apple's $178 billion in cash and investments.
There may be no time like the present for M&A, given the added buying power that comes with the U.S. dollar's appreciation against other global currencies and historically low interest rates. It's best to make large purchases "at the most enviable time, not when you have to," Kessler said.
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Apple declined to comment on its M&A strategy, but CEO Tim Cook touted the company's Beats acquisition and others made in 2014 in an earnings call with investors in October. And Cook strongly signaled more deals are coming.
"We've brought tremendous new talent and technology into Apple through 20 acquisitions in fiscal 2014, including seven alone in the September quarter," Cook said. "We closed the Beats transition in July, and we're off to a great start with some wonderful plans that we'll share with you in the future."
The $3 billion Beats deal really garnered Apple its "street creed" as an acquirer, said Marc Chaikin of Chaikin Analytics.
The signals being sent are unambiguous for Gene Munster, a managing director and senior research analyst who tracks Apple at Piper Jaffray. "Tim Cook is a master at priming the pump and getting investors ready for shifts in business. He's been very clear, 'We're not averse to doing a big deal;' the key takeaway is, they are looking at a lot of things," Munster said.