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Friday 29 August 2014

Apple prepares to split its stock

Published 24/04/2014 | 02:02

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Apple is to split its stock in a bid to win back worried investors

Apple is doling out more of its cash to shareholders and preparing to split its stock for the first time in nine years in an attempt to win back investors fretting about the iPhone maker's slowing sales growth and pace of innovation.

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The moves announced as part of Apple's second-quarter earnings report are aimed at boosting the company's stock price, which has been hovering about 25% below the peak it reached in September 2012. The bellwether Standard & Poor's 500 has climbed by 28% during the same period.

Apple earmarked an additional 30 billion dollars (£17.9bn) for buying back its stock through next year, bringing the total to 90 billion (£53.8bn) during that timeframe.

The Cupertino, California, company also is raising its quarterly dividend 8% to 3.29 dollars per share, up from 3.05 per share.

The moves come amid worries investors have about the future of Apple since Steve Jobs, its co-founder and chief visionary, died in October 2011. Those worries have been compounded by the fierce competition that Apple faces in mobile devices, particularly from Samsung, which has been widening its lead in the smartphone market.

Although many analysts had been expecting Apple to distribute more money to shareholders, the stock split came as a surprise. After the seven-for-one split is completed on June 9, the trading price of Apple's shares will fall dramatically. Had the split occurred at yesterday's closing price of 524.75 dollar shares, the stock would probably begin trading at around 75 dollars (£44.90).

At that level, more people should be able to afford to buy shares - a factor that could, in theory, fuel more demand for Apple's stock and eventually lift the price.

The company's escalating investment in its own stock also could increase the price by reducing the number of outstanding shares. That reduction increases earning per share, a key yardstick on Wall Street to appraise a company's value. Apple's market value currently stands at about 470 billion dollars (£281.4bn), more than any other publicly held company.

Since Apple's last split in February 2005, the stock has increased nearly 12-fold. But chief executive Tim Cook told analysts that Apple's stock price "does not reflect the full value of the company".

Apple's stock soared 39.78 dollars, or 7.6%, to 564.53 in extended trading after the news came out.

Activist investor Carl Icahn, who had spent months pressuring Apple to buy back more stock, was among those applauding the company's moves. In a Twitter post he said he was "extremely pleased" and reiterated his belief that Apple's stock remained "meaningfully undervalued".

The results for the first three months of the year illustrated how Apple can afford to spend so much money on its own stock while also paying more than 11 billion dollars (£6.5bn) in dividends annually.

The company ended the quarter with nearly 151 billion dollars (£90.4bn) in cash, including 132 billion (£79bn) it is keeping overseas to lower its US tax bill. The money being held outside the US is not available to buy back stock or pay shareholder dividends.

Apple's earnings rose 7% to 10.2 billion dollars (£6.1bn), or 11.62 per share, an amount that exceeds what most technology companies make in an entire year. Revenue climbed 5% to 45.6 billion dollars (£27.3bn). It represented the highest revenue that Apple has generated in any quarter occurring outside the Christmas shopping season.

Nonetheless, Apple's revenue growth has been stuck between one and six per cent for the past year. By contrast, the quarterly revenue of rival Google has been rising at 12% to 19% during the same stretch.

The quarter was highlighted by a 17% increase in iPhone sales from the same time last year to 43.7 million units, boosted by strong demand in China, the US, western Europe and Japan.

But iPad sales fell 16% from last year to about 16.4 million tablets. Apple traced the decline to its inability to meet the demand for the iPad Mini during the holiday season of 2012. That prompted Apple to ramp up production in last year's January-March quarter, boosting sales higher than they otherwise would have been. The company said it managed iPad demand better during the 2013 holidays.

Even as Apple faces more competition from Samsung, other rivals have been releasing their own sleek and often cheaper devices. Most of those devices use Google's free Android system, which Mr Jobs believed had ripped off Apple's ideas.

Mr Cook, Jobs' hand-picked successor, has repeatedly hinted that the company is putting the finishing touches on its first major breakthrough since the iPad came out four years ago. True to Apple's tight-lipped nature, Mr Cook has not provided any details about what's in works.

Speculation has centered on an iPhone with a larger display screen, an internet-connected watch that would also monitor users' health, a digital wallet built into Apple's devices, and a more sophisticated version of the Apple TV streaming device.

"We're expanding Apple's products and services into new categories and we are not going to underinvest in this business," Mr Cook told analysts as he explained why the company was not diverting even more cash to stock repurchases and dividends.

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