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Apple Dividend Pays Out $45 Billion

03/20/2012 09:45 AM ET

Apple Inc CEO Tim Cook, moving swiftly after taking over from late Silicon Valley icon Steve Jobs, fulfilled a longstanding desire of investors by initiating a quarterly dividend and share buyback that will pay out $45 billion over three years.

Apple, the world’s most valuable company, will start paying its first dividends since 1995 - a regular quarterly payout of $2.65 a share - in July, and buy back up to $10 billion of its stock beginning in the next fiscal year.

The $10 billion annual dividend program, which Cook said will be reviewed periodically, ranks among the largest current U.S. corporate cash payouts.

Yet it disappointed some fund managers, given a 1.8 percent dividend yield that lags the Standard & Poor’s 500 average and its modest size versus a $98 billion war chest Apple has accumulated selling Macintosh computers and iPhones.

On Monday, the company said it had sold 3 million of its latest, 4G-enabled iPads, setting a first-weekend record for the line of tablet computers.

Cook told analysts on Monday that “making great products” remained top priority, echoing the sentiments of his former boss, who died last October after a long battle with cancer.

Jobs’ former lieutenant has impressed Wall Street since taking the helm. He made his mark revealing Apple’s production partners and initiating investigations into allegations of labor abuse in its supply chain, and addressing investors directly at this year’s Goldman Sachs conference. But the question of whether the operations maven can envision revolutionary products lingers for some.

“Already we are seeing more openness, and more willingness to address issues on many different fronts under Tim Cook than we had seen in the past,” said Connor Browne, portfolio manager of Thornburg Value Fund.

“While all this other stuff is good, there is still some pressure on management to come out with fantastic products over the coming months,” he said.

Cook’s move came less than a year after he was appointed head of the company and suggested to many a move away from Jobs’ era, when a dividend was often mentioned but not acted upon. Under Jobs, Apple maintained that capital preservation was key and the company needed the flexibility of having a cash pile.

Apple shares ended up 2.7 percent at $601.10, after notching a record of $601.77 just before its close on the Nasdaq.

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