Who Will Be The Next Tech Giant to Pay a Dividend?
Barry Diller is throwing down the dividend gauntlet.
"I think it's an outdated and somewhat inane concept that high growth companies shouldn't pay dividends," IAC's (NAS: IACI) chairman and master dot-com architect reveals in this morning's earnings release. "We've been growing our earnings consistently, have substantially no debt, and large reserves of cash."
After years of Nil City in terms of payouts, IAC is initiating a dividend policy. Shareholders will receive $0.12 a share every three months. The distributions add up to a yield of a mere 1.2%, and $0.48 a share over the course of the coming year is just 20% of what analysts feel that Diller's company will earn next year. Still, it's the thought that counts -- and Diller is laying down the low-lying groundwork to come through with annual dividend hikes if they're warranted.
IAC is good for the money. It closed out the quarter with $865 million in cash, cash equivalents, and marketable securities against just $95.8 million in long-term debt. However, what about companies with even larger cash reserves that are still practicing the "outdated and somewhat inane concept" of skimping on dividends?
Who will be the next Internet company to dig deep into its even deeper pockets and begin shelling out quarterly disbursements? Let's take a look at the usual suspects.
Apple (NAS: AAPL)
There is no company richer than the class act of Cupertino. Apple's hoarding $81.6 billion in cash and marketable securities.
Everyone knows that Apple is a money-making machine, selling iEverything gadgetry hand over fist. What is it going to do with all of that money?
Steve Jobs was never a fan of share buybacks, and that's a pity given the stock's massive appreciation over the years. Can you imagine how much higher Apple shares would be today if it had fewer shares outstanding? If Apple had been spending tens of billions on stock repurchases at much lower price points over the past decade, an already incredible investment would be even better.
Jobs also obviously never got around to initiating a payout policy.
Apple may one day run into hard times, as all companies do, but what good is having $81.6 billion -- and counting -- in a bunker?
After speaking to new CEO Tim Cook, Barclays Capital's Ben Reitzes believes that Apple will ultimately introduce the dividends that income investors on the sidelines have been clamoring for. Cook is "not religious" about hoarding away its greenery.
Now would be a great time for Cook to announce a dividend to distinguish himself from Jobs in a way that will actually please its investors.
Google (NAS: GOOG)
The world's leading search engine is holding $42.6 billion in cash, cash equivalents, and short-term marketable securities. That's a lot of money to be holding in this crummy low-interest rate environment.
Google has a different dilemma than Apple. Whenever it decides to tap its massive cash reserves for an acquisition -- the way it is hoping to do with its $12.5 billion pending purchase of Motorola Mobility (NYS: MMI) -- antitrust regulators throw fits. It took Google nearly a year to clear its $700 million deal for travel software specialist ITA Software, and takeover talks with Groupon last year reportedly broke down on Groupon demanding stiff termination penalties if regulators nixed the marriage that never ultimately took place.
In other words, it's not as if Google will be able to put its growing greenbacks to good use in buying anything other than the smallish companies that it has been gobbling up.
Search engines have been globally stingy. China's Baidu (NAS: BIDU) and Russia's Yandex (NAS: YNDX) also have nothing to offer yield-hungry investors. As the slower growing giant here, now would be a good time for Big G to set the proper example.
Netflix (NAS: NFLX)
As for this fallen dot-com darling, one can only wonder how the stock would have held up if it had a steady dividend distribution policy to break its fall.
Netflix is in an entirely different boat than Apple and Google. The video rental giant has been aggressive over the years in repurchasing its shares. Despite the stock's disastrous tumble since July, Netflix has been buying stock at an average price of $45 since 2007. One can argue that now would be an ideal time to buy more.
Netflix is also investing heavily in building up its streaming content and expanding overseas. The next few quarters may get rough, especially if net subscriber cancellations continue.
However, perhaps the better use of its $366 million in dry powder would be to reward its battered shareholders with a dividend that will help support the share price the next time bad news hits the wires. Netflix can't legitimately position itself as a growth-stock darling anymore. It's time to reach out to a larger base of investors.
Which of these three will be the next Web-savvy tech stock to pay out? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.
At the time this article was published The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and Apple.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Google, Netflix, Baidu, and Apple.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been a Netflix subscriber and shareholder since 2002. He does not own shares in any of the other stocks in this story. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.