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Apple might buy a big company but not the ones you think

JP Mangalindan
Chief Tech Correspondent
Speculation swirled last months following a report that Apple could very well use its $250 billion-plus cash hoard to purchase a large company like Disney, Netflix or Tesla.

Apple (AAPL) might acquire a large company but not the high-flying businesses bandied about in the press recently, according to a new UBS note.

In the new note, UBS analyst Steven Milunovich argued that “mega-mergers” with companies such as Disney (DIS), Netflix (NFLX) and Tesla (TSLA) simply wouldn’t make sense for Apple. RBC Capital Markets analysts initially hypothesized in April about an Apple-Disney pairing, with Citibank analysts suggesting Netflix and Tesla as prime acquisition targets last week.  

“[Tim] Cook has said he is not averse to a large deal, but we think it would need to leapfrog Apple ahead in an area of interest, such as transportation, A/R [augmented reality], health, home automation, and perhaps content,” Milunovich stated. “The majority of what has been proposed doesn’t fit, in our view.”

With cash reserves of over $250 billion, Apple certainly has the wherewithal to acquire most large companies. Certainly on the surface, acquiring Tesla makes sense, given reports that Apple continues to experiment in the auto space. And scooping up Disney or Netflix would certainly go a long way to boosting Apple’s reported efforts behind-the-scenes to develop original series and movies.

“If there’s a deal out there that would strike fear in the hearts of Silicon Valley and Hollywood, this could be it,” RBC Capital Markets analyst Amit Daryanani wrote of a possible Apple-Disney pairing in last month’s report.

But buying a business like Disney or Netflix doesn’t make sense for Apple, Milunovich contended. That’s partly because Apple is primarily a content distributor, not a content maker. Unlike many media companies, Apple also prides itself on owning the vast majority of design, manufacturing and marketing components necessary for bringing devices like the iPhone to market.

While media acquisitions might not make sense for Apple, the company has good reason to acquire outside companies to bolster its devices and software services. Those include reducing its dependence on the iPhone, which saw flat sales last quarter, and catching up in rapidly growing markets Apple deems important to its long-term goals and vision.

“Steve Jobs warned: ‘Companies forget what it means to make great products…they really have no feeling in their heart about wanting to really help the customers,’” Milunovich added. “We think Apple is likely to only make an acquisition that results in a better product and customer experience, not to protect financial results.”

JP Mangalindan is a senior correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.  

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