Should Apple buy Greece?
IT started as a joke at an Apple investor conference a few years ago. An audience member piped up that Apple should use its mass of cash - which now amounts to $194 billion - to buy Greece.
Tim Cook, Apple ceo, wasn't convinced. He said while Apple had looked at many things, buying a country wasn't one of them.
But Leonid Bershidsky at Bloomberg thinks he might have missed a trick.
This week, Greece has reportedly resorted to desperate measures to scrape together a €750 million debt interest payment owed to the International Monetary Fund. The mayor of Thessaloniki said he had been asked to hand over cash reserves, while pension and hospital suppliers have suffered delayed payments. The Greek government has warned that it will run out of cash in just a couple of weeks.
The EU is standing firm, demanding pension reforms and budget cuts. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the EU minister chairing the talks, has given no guarantee that the EU would yield before a crisis hits.
Meanwhile Apple's $194 billion cash pile continues to grow. The company has shied away from expensive, projects - like a space mission, or a new breed of car - in favour of small improvements to existing products: the iPhone as a wristwatch, iTunes as a streaming service.
Bershidsky has done some maths and worked out that Apple, Microsoft, Google Pfizer and Cisco have stockpiled $429 billion between them. Most of that is kept out of the US to avoid a 35 per cent tax hit.
If half of that cash was used to bail out Greece, it would cut Greece's debt problem to 70 per cent of its GDP, a level Bershidsky said is manageable.
In return, Greece could offer the five big tech companies a sweetheart tax deal. That's the kind of deal Apple already has in Ireland, where it pays corporate tax of 2 per cent despite Ireland's corporate tax rate coming in at 12.5 per cent as standard.
Bershidsky said the EU might be inclined to accept this kind of sweetheart deal in Greece even as it investigates it in Ireland, because it would not want Greece to default.
Greece could then become home to headquarters for Apple, Microsoft, Google Pfizer and Cisco, boosting jobs and tech in the country.
"I'm pretty sure this kind of bailout would get the Greek people's approval if put to a referendum," Bershidsky said.