Apple's Sauce: $34 Billion In Cash, Stock Peaks, And Mysterious Shipping Anomalies

34677017_7dc55768a1The big, obvious take away from Apple’s Q4 earnings report earlier today was that it once again crushed the estimates. And not just its own forward-looking estimates, which are always laughably low, but even the estimates of the most optimistic analysts — by a lot. But some of the other numbers from today were just as impressive, and some of the information, even more interesting.

Apple now has $34 billion in cash in the bank. Apple watchers will also know that they have no debt. So what are they going to do with all this money? That’s $10 billion more than they had a year ago, and this past quarter alone, they added about $3 billion to the pile. Apple keeps saying that it will use the cash for “preservation of capital,” which is a fancy way of saying that they’ll be take little risk and keep it close.

That’s more cash than Microsoft has, and for some comparison, $34 billion is $10 billion more than the overall market cap of Yahoo. It’s also about $1.5 billion more than the market cap of eBay, and $4 billion more than the market cap of Dell. It’s almost exactly the same as the market cap of News Corp.

Apple’s stock could open tomorrow at or near its all-time high. Let me repeat that, all-time high. You probably haven’t heard that too often over the past year, but it’s true. Apple’s all-time high is $202.96 a share, which it reached on Dec. 27, 2007, nearly 2 years ago. Today, after earnings were released, the stock shot up over 7%, pushing it past $203 a share. It has since settled a bit lower, but it’s not out of the question that the stock could hit the mark again tomorrow during regular trading hours. Apple’s stock price has more than doubled over the past 7 months alone.

Sales of the iPod touch were up 100% year over year. This is especially impressive considering two things. First, overall iPod sales were down, once again. Second, despite indications that they would, Apple did not add a camera to the iPod touch during that line’s refresh a few months ago. Instead, the iPod nano got the camera, but it would seem that the iPod touch is still the hot sibling in the family.

OS X Snow Leopard came out of the gates twice as fast as OS X Leopard. This really shouldn’t be all that surprising, considering the upgrade costs just $30. Still, impressive.

Half billion apps downloaded in the last quarter alone. We already knew the big 2 billion app download milestone was hit, but Apple clearly stated that a full half billion of those came just in the past three months. That’s huge.

Portable sales were up 35% year over year. Apple didn’t want to seem to talk about its desktops at all when it came to the Mac business (which had its best quarter ever). Instead, it’s very clear that notebook sales are the driving force (nearly 3/4th of Mac sales now). Of course, some new iMacs, which may launch as soon as tomorrow, could help balance the sales a bit more.

China is getting the iPhone on October 30, but Korea should get it this quarter as well. Obviously China is a huge key to the Apple’s plan for international success, but getting the iPhone in Korea won’t hurt either. Apple COO Tim Cook made a quick reference to the unlocked iPhone issue in Asia, and noted that the company is excited to finally be able to meet a demand that is clearly there.

Apple has some new products coming that have relatively low margins and cost a lot on to ship in. The obvious guess here would be Apple’s tablet. But the latest rumors had the thing being announced in January, but not shipping until closer to mid 2010 — neither of which are fiscal year Q1 (which ends December 31). Instead, the lower margins could well be related to new iMacs and MacBooks that have been rumored to be cheaper.

But the more interesting bit comes from Cook’s wording about why Apple spending more on shipping: “In general, we spend more in freight in Q1, but this increase is larger than usual. I’m sorry, I can’t be specific on the product, but it’s an abnormal sequential increase.” That would seem to suggest a new type of product outside the ones it already offers, like the iMac and MacBook, which it has, of course, shipped in the past. Could the tablet come early? It seems unlikely, but something is causing Apple to worry about out-of-the-ordinary shipping costs.

Apple has until Q1 2011 to use the new accounting rules. The changes allow Apple to count money made of off its so-called “subscription” devices, the iPhone and the Apple TV, immediately, rather than spreading the money over a 2-year period. While they were approved in September, Apple is still debating on when to start using them, and will not for Q1 2010. Cook noted that Apple was “pleased” with this new rule.

[photo: flickr/stu_spivak]