Apple Dividend: Bad Earnings Band-Aid or Good Earnings Accelerant
March 19, the first anniversary of Apple’s 2012 dividend announcement, came and went without remark from the company, let alone the 56 percent increase in that dividend some analysts were predicting. And now, as it heads toward its next earnings report, scheduled for release on April 23, questions are emerging about Apple’s intent in delaying word on its dividend.
Could the company’s silence about its capital allocation plan be an indicator of bad earnings news in the pipeline? Is Apple planning to use news of a dividend increase as a poultice for a share price bruised by some disappointing financials?
That’s a theory that has been growing legs in recent weeks. If Apple were to report March results below its guidance on April 23, bundling those numbers with an increase to its shareholder dividend could take some of the sting out of them.
“The lack of announcement [has] increased speculation that the company is planning to package the good news of a new capital plan with the bad news of the quarter or even worse … fears of a pre-announcement,” BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk explains. “Even the contemplation that the management team would stoop to packaging good news with weak results should be disappointing enough to investors that have considered this company as ‘different’ and above the cosmetic games played by far too many management teams.”
Certainly a plausible theory. And it may well be that we see it play out on the 23rd.
Or not. Apple recently changed the way it provides earnings forecasts, moving from a conservative point estimate of results that it had reasonable confidence in achieving to a range of guidance that it feels it’s likely to achieve. And that’s the big wild card in the company’s next earnings report. If that shift in guidance succeeded in lowering analysts’ expectations to a more reasonable level for the March quarter, it’s entirely possible that Apple will meet them — assuming that it meets its own forecast. Note that Apple’s guidance for the quarter it will soon report was for $41 billion to $43 billion, and there are a few analysts calling for it come in below that.
So, if Apple reports in that range — or surpasses it — it’s good news.
And if it announces a dividend at the same time? Well, that’s very good news, indeed. It’s just the sort of propellant Apple’s share price needs right about now. And something very different from the “cosmetic game” some folks fear the company will play.