Most analysts believe that Apple (AAPL) does not have to offer a dividend or share buyback to keep investors in the stock. But will that soon change? Katy Huberty, an analyst at Morgan Stanley said Apple is "more likely than ever" to turn to either method to return part of the firm's $76 billion in cash to shareholders, according to Bloomberg.
There is a precedent among big tech companies to offer dividends as share price increases slow. Microsoft (MSFT) decided to give shareholders a huge reward when it issued $30 billion in a special dividend in 2004 and said it would buy back billions of dollars in shares over a four-year period. It also promised to use $75 billion to enhance shareholder value.
A number of Silicon Valley's older elite companies pay dividends. Microsoft's is $.64, or 2.5%. Intel's (INTC) is $.84 which, translates into a rich 4.30% yield. Cisco's (CSCO) is $.24, or 1.5%.
One reason why Apple may decide to issue a buyback or dividend is a changing of the guard. Steve Jobs clearly was unwilling to offer shareholders anything beyond the growth in the stock's value. New CEO Tim Cook and the board may feel otherwise.
Another reason Apple's management may decide that enhancing shareholder value is that its shares are no longer rising quickly. The stock is up 120% over the last two years and just over 40% in the last year. In the last month, the shares are basically flat. If the stock market fails because of a sharply slowing economy, Apple's stock may not advance near-term.
Even if it does make a move, Apple is not likely to do anything dramatic. But investors certainly want to know what the consumer tech giant will do with all of its cash, which continues to rise by billions of dollars each quarter.
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