by Dan Burrows | April 4, 2014 2:18 pm
Apple (AAPL) is widely expected to raise the Apple dividend slightly and add a modest increase to its share repurchase program when it reports earnings later this month, but that won’t be of much help to AAPL stock if results are disappointing, as some analysts expect.
The current Apple dividend of $12.20 per year has the yield on AAPL stock sitting at 2.2% — not bad for a tech company, but certainly not competitive with most dividend stocks. It’s not like yield-hungry investors are buying AAPL stock for the income. The Apple dividend is too thin.
Under Apple’s current share repurchase program, the company has pledged to buy back a total of $60 billion in AAPL stock by the end of next year. It has bought back $40 billion over the last 12 months.
Some investors and analysts think the Apple dividend will get a hike of 10% to 20% when the company announces quarterly results. Apple could also add another $25 billion or more to its program of buying back AAPL stock.
Although both moves are a welcome use of Apple’s cash hoard, neither is going to move the needle on the stock at first. The Apple dividend hike and buyback increase are widely expected and thus already reflected in the AAPL stock price.
And if returning more cash to shareholders is intended to appease investors who are upset over disappointing quarterly results, a small hike in the Apple dividend and a modest addition to the AAPL stock repurchase program is unlikely to offset selling in the immediate aftermath of the report.
Some analysts fear that’s a distinct possibility. BMO Capital Markets think Apple earnings will come up short of expectations with a wide miss on revenue. That would be especially painful for AAPL stock considering analysts are modeling a weak quarter, with revenue flat year-over-year. Earnings per share are expected to increase by less than 1%.
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster thinks there’s very little downside to AAPL stock and that all eyes will be on second-half product announcements.
The iPhone 6 and other new gadgets are expected in the second half of the year as part of the product refresh cycle. Market expectations for iPhone 6 are fairly low, setting up the possibility of a strong upside surprise. As Jaffray wrote in a note to clients:
“We think that buy side expectations for the impact of iPhone 6 and new product categories are relatively low, suggesting upside to shares if the products ultimately are more meaningful. Worst case it seems that an in-line product cycle would mean that shares do nothing.”
Either way, if the Apple dividend and AAPL stock buyback programs do get raised, it should help shares recover in the months that follow any pullback from a disappointing quarter.
AAPL stock was trading below $400 a share heading into last year’s March quarter, and raising the Apple dividend and share buyback helped lift AAPL stock through year-end. AAPL stock likewise got a lift after after the company bought back $14 billion worth of shares following first-quarter results.
An increase in the Apple dividend and AAPL stock buyback certainly won’t hurt anyone, but what Apple really needs to get back to all-time highs is to create excitement over new products. Until then, the market will have to content itself with some more AAPL cash.
As of this writing, Dan Burrows did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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