Apple Could Pay a Special Dividend

Apple Could Pay a Special Dividend

The existence of a dividend gives investors some reassurance, the feeling that they are investing in a solid company, Apple hasn’t paid a dividend in years. Now some are saying Apple could and should pay a dividend from the mountain of cash it’s sitting on.

Therese Poletti for MarketWatch:

 To me, the notion of dividends, no matter how many tech companies now pay them, still brings up for some the connotation of widows-and-orphans, providing an assured income. Before the government forced the break-up of AT&T, it was the quintessential widows-and-orphans stock. Before its Baby Bells were forced to leave the nest, in 1983 Ma Bell’s annual dividend was $5.40 per share.

Certainly, times have changed and dividends have shrunk. Intel Corp. and Microsoft pay them. But they still are not typically associated with cool growth companies, and they certainly were an anathema to Apple’s famous co-founder Steve Jobs, who never reinstituted Apple’s dividend after he returned to the near- bankrupt company.

So why is Wall Street pushing for Apple to start paying a dividend? Its cash pile. Now reaching $100 billion in cash and marketable securities, the pile is something investors are having a hard time ignoring.

Under Steve Jobs the company had a policy of conserving cash. Apple has used its money pile for product development, buying small firms, manufacturing and buying components, and to build its popular retail stores.

“But yes, we still have a lot,” Apple CEO Tim Cook says. “We are judicious, we are deliberate. We spend our money like it is our last penny. I think shareholders want us to do that. They don’t want us to act like we are rich. That may sound bizarre but that is the truth.”

There has been a slight change in tone though. Cook told investors that he is “not religious” about the cash issue, and he asked investors “for a bit of patience,” while he admitted that Apple had more cash than it needed to run the daily business.

A special dividend could be an interim solution for the company. “If they want to they can always come back in a year or two or three, they can do it again, but they are not committing themselves to a regular dividend,” James Post, a professor at Boston University’s School of Management said. “It would be seen as a pretty big departure from the Jobs era.”

A one-time dividend would likely not be popular with long time investors.

“I think that Apple’s stock is and should be like Apple’s sales and products, insanely great,” said individual shareholder King Lear, who spoke up at the company’s annual meeting last year. “Defined quarterly dividends would increase the value of the stock in addition to its incredible capital growth.”

As the debate continues, it looks like the next move is up to Apple’s board.

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