Peter Kafka

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Apple Starts Spending Its Cash: Dividend Plus Share Buyback

Apple didn’t wait until its conference call this morning to disclose what it’s going to do with its $100 billion cash hoard: It will start cutting dividend checks, and will buy back some of its shares as well. Total bill: About $45 billion over the next three years.

Details from the press release:

“Subject to declaration by the Board of Directors, the Company plans to initiate a quarterly dividend of $2.65 per share sometime in the fourth quarter of its fiscal 2012, which begins on July 1, 2012.

Additionally, the Company’s Board of Directors has authorized a $10 billion share repurchase program commencing in the Company’s fiscal 2013, which begins on September 30, 2012. The repurchase program is expected to be executed over three years, with the primary objective of neutralizing the impact of dilution from future employee equity grants and employee stock purchase programs.”

The money will come from Apple’s domestic cash pile, which allows the company to avoid the heavy tax hit it would face if it “repatriated” its overseas holdings.

My hunch is that CEO Tim Cook and CFO Peter Oppenheimer won’t have a whole lot more to say during their call, but we’ll check in, anyway. You never know! You can listen for yourself at this link, or follow along here for live coverage:

9:07 am: After some technical difficulties, we’re joining the call in progress. CFO Peter Oppenheimer is speaking.

Apple wants to, among other things, attract new investors. The dividend, as already disclosed, will be $2.65. The main intent is to offset the dilution expected from employee RSU.

We will expect first year’s dividend payments to be $10 billion, Oppenheimer says.

Commencing in fiscal year 2013, Apple will begin repurchasing shares, primarily from employee stock grant. Cash use to consume $4 billion in the first fiscal year.

That will eat up $45 billion in domestic cash over three years.

Now open for Q&A:

Barclays asks about the philosophy on dividend growth. He’s wondering if the $2.65 will get higher.

Oppenheimer: We’ll review the payments periodically with the board. Payments will be more than $2 billion a quarter, making it one of the highest dividend payers in the U.S. Still avoiding the tax hit from repatriating cash held outside the U.S. Sensitive issue there.

Barclays analyst is asking a follow-up. Can you reiterate confidence in future product pipeline?

Tim Cook is speaking. We had an incredible growth last quarter of 73 percent, despite the base on the growth being large. The pipeline is full of stuff. Our customers will be incredibly pleased with what they see.

Morgan Stanley question. She’s asking about international cash, almost $100 billion overseas. How does the board think about putting that to us?

Oppenheimer: Today, we’ve got plenty of U.S. cash to invest, pay dividends and buy back shares. Repatriating cash would incur significant taxes. We have expressed our views to Congress and the White House. We think there’s a significant disincentive. He didn’t answer the question, really.

Gene Munster of Piper asks about potential for stock splits.

Cook: We have looked at it. The current information we have would suggest there’s little support that it helps the stock. We are in a unique position, so this is something we continue to look at, and if we thought it were in the best interest of shareholders, we would do it.

Munster: Any color on iPad?

Cook: Record weekend, and we’re thrilled with it.

Goldman Sachs: How do you think about growth in repurchases versus growth in dividends? Which is more important?

Oppenheimer. We remain very confident in what we’re doing. We are squarely focused on achieving our potential in the business. We will continue to assess our plans periodically. Nothing further to say today.

Cross Research: How did you arrive at the numbers you announced today?

Oppenheimer: We opted to go with a hybrid approach after doing a lot of analysis and listening to input we were getting from the shareholders. Emphasis behind the dividend. Most cash is going there. $10 billion in first year is going out in dividends. He keeps repeating the “neutralize dilution from employee RSU.” We also want to maintain sufficient U.S. cash to take advantage of strategic opportunities from time to time.

I totally missed Shannon Cross’s second question.

Cook is speaking about using domestic cash versus overseas cash. Our emphasis will always be on creating innovative products. He says even with all this cash going out the door, the domestic war chest will be big enough to do whatever they need to do. Plus, they see it as good for shareholders.

Oppenheimer says there are 17.7 million RSU (restricted stock units) outstanding.

That’s it! We’re done.


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