Apple has looked at large firms for M&A, COO says

SAN FRANCISCO Tue Feb 23, 2010 6:44pm EST

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - An Apple Inc senior executive said on Tuesday the iPhone and Mac maker has looked at large companies as part of its mergers and acquisition strategy, but none have passed muster.

Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook noted Apple has traditionally made small acquisitions for talent and technology.

But he said no large company has passed "a strategic and a financial test."

"We don't let our money burn a hole in our pocket. And so unless we find something that really makes sense for Apple shareholders, we're not going to do it ... If we find a large one, we won't be shy about it, but we won't do it to do it," Cook said at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco.

Apple has roughly $40 billion in cash and securities, and many shareholders are wondering what it plans to do with its war chest.

It recently made two relatively small acquisitions, buying mobile ad firm Quattro Wireless and music subscription service Lala.

THE IPAD AND AT&T

Apple is preparing to launch its newest device, the iPad tablet computer, in the coming weeks. Cook said the iPad will be sold directly by Apple, and in some indirect channels with "assisted sales," such as Best Buy.

Cook praised the iPad data pricing plan to be offered in the United States by carrier AT&T Inc as "revolutionary," and brushed aside a question about what others would have to do become a carrier for the product.

"I wouldn't want to speculate about what else somebody would have to do to join the party."

Apple works exclusively with AT&T -- whose network quality has come under harsh criticism from many users -- on both the iPhone and the iPad in the United States. Cook said that exclusivity allows Apple to work with the carrier on special features.

Analysts say Apple TV is one of the company's few products that has not caught on with consumers. Cook conceded that the device was "still a hobby" but said the company believes in it and will continue to invest.

The COO said Apple plans to open around 50 retail stores this year, at the top of its expected range. He said the company elected to slow its retail expansion as the economic downturn began in 2008, and because of that Apple is seeing plenty of opportunity on the real estate front.

"We slowed it down and guess what? Now there's a lot of great properties on the market. We see this, we want too take advantage of this, so we've turned the dial up," he said.

The shares of Cupertino, California-based Apple closed at $197.06, down 1.7 percent, on the Nasdaq.

(Reporting by Gabriel Madway; Editing by Andre Grenon and Steve Orlofsky)

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