Apple, Boeing: R&D Cheapskates?

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In 2013 the United States spent more corporate money on research and development than any other country in the world. Of a total spending level of €538.8 billion (about $738.3 billion), U.S.-based companies spent €189.1 billion, or 35.1% of the total. Japanese firms were the second-highest spenders, with 18.9% of the total, followed by Germany (10.5%), France (5.2%) and the United Kingdom (4.2%).

The data comes for the European Commission’s 2013 EU Industrial R&D Investment Scorecard and is based on information gathered on 2,000 companies from around the world.

Of the five companies spending the most, two are automakers, two are technology companies and one is technology conglomerate. The top spender was Volkswagen, followed by Samsung Electronics, Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT), Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) and Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM). Interestingly, the next five companies are all drug companies.

One company that spends relatively little is Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL). Apple spent about €$2.5 billion on R&D in 2013, according to the EU. In its annual report for its fiscal year ending in October, the company said it spent $4.5 billion on R&D.

R&D spending at Apple has ramped up seriously in the past few years. In fact Apple has spent nearly 50% of all its R&D spending since 1995 in the past three years. And as the money keeps rolling into Cupertino, the amount Apple spends on R&D as a percentage of net sales has fallen to 2.6% from a high of around 8% in 2001, the year the iPod was released.

One way to look at Apple’s R&D spending levels over the past decade or so is that the company has gotten a lot of bang out of relatively few bucks. But as iPod sales dwindle and smartphone and tablet markets either get saturated or move to countries where lower prices are the sales drivers, Apple may have to step up its spending on R&D.

Another surprising omission from the EU’s list of the 50 biggest R&D spenders is Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA). EADS, the parent of arch-rival Airbus, spent more than €3.5 billion in 2013. The lowest spending level among the top 50 is about €2.4 billion. According to Boeing’s annual report for 2013, the company spent $3.1 billion on R&D last year, or about 3.5% of total revenue.