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What Will Facebook Do with Its Cash?

Douglas A. McIntyre

It is enough money to buy up most of the residential property on Museum Mile, a northern part of New York's Fifth Avenue, or every Ford ever built? That won't happen, but investors have no idea what Facebook Inc. (FB) will do with its cash. The issue was lost among the glee about earnings and the success of mobile advertising.

Facebook has $9.5 billion, give or take.

Facebook could make a large series of acquisitions, like Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO) has, to transform itself, but Facebook does not need a Yahoo!-style transformation. It could buy Twitter, and double down in social media. That would use up all of Facebook's cash, unless the Twitter owners would take some of the buyout in stock. And Twitter has struggled on its own with how to get enough advertising to prove it has a viable model.

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So, what is the most likely course? The answer is likely that Facebook will do what Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Apple Inc. (AAPL) did, until they were virtually forced to do otherwise. It will hoard the money. And it will hoard it in cash or safe financial instruments, which will get a yield close to zero.

Facebook will hold its cash, to a large extent, because it is risk averse, and its management does not have the imagination to change the company. Management believes the Facebook is, as it is, enough. That is despite the fact that, even with a good quarter under its best, its shares still trade way, way below its IPO price. So a many people who own the stock continue to be underwater.

The speculation about the Facebook's cash will sit in the background while it does well. Once it has a bad quarter, Wall Street will wonder if the social network model is enough, and the questions about its cash will come up again.

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