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What just happened? Even those who aren't familiar with the tech world know that, in terms of market capitalization, Apple is one of the most valuable companies in the world. But when it comes to actual financial reserves, the iPhone maker has been knocked off the number one spot after more than a decade by Google parent Alphabet---though that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
According to a Financial Times report, Alphabet has $117 billion in reserve as of the second financial quarter. Apple, meanwhile, has $102 billion. Both figures are cash minus debt.
This isn't an indication that Apple is struggling to keep up with Alphabet. The Cupertino firm held a record $163 billion in cash back in 2017, but it has been reducing that mountain over the years. It took advantage of a tax reform that allowed US companies to repatriate overseas cash at a reduced rate, which was used on stock buybacks and dividends. In total, Apple has spent $122 billion on stock buybacks since the beginning of 2018, and its R&D spending is at its highest level in 18 years.
As the FT notes, holding large amounts of cash reserves isn't always positive, and is something investors usually discourage. They would rather the money was returned to them in some way or invested in something else. In Alphabet's case, the money could lead to increased scrutiny from regulators, especially with Google under the spotlight for its alleged monopolistic practices. Both Google and Alphabet have been hit with around $9.05 billion in antitrust fines by the EU over last two years.
While Apple became the first US company to reach a market cap of $1 trillion last year, its value has fallen since then---it is currently at $873 billion. It now trails Microsoft, which is valued at $1.01 trillion.