Five charts that show Apple is returning more cash than any company ever

The iPhone maker's buyback and dividend plans in context.

  • By Robin Wigglesworth,
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Apple (AAPL) sprayed more money at its shareholders in the first quarter of 2018 than any company in history — even before the new $100bn buyback programme and a 16 per cent increase in the dividend that it announced on Tuesday.

Here are some data and charts to put this in context.

Apple bought back $22.8bn of its own stock in the first quarter under its previous buyback authorisation, according to regulatory filings.

Howard Silverblatt, analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices, who tracks corporate capital returns, says this is a new quarterly record for a US company — smashing Apple's own record from the first quarter of 2014. The company now accounts for six of the top 10 biggest quarterly buybacks in US stock market history.

For the money that it has spent on its own shares in the quarter, Apple could have bought all the shares of any one of 275 members of the S&P 500 (.SPX).

Apple says that, since it started returning cash to shareholders in 2012, its overall completed buybacks and dividends will, by the end of June, have reached $210bn. That sum is more than the market value of all but 20 of the biggest listed companies in the US — bigger than icons of corporate America including Verizon (VZ), AT&T (T), Boeing (BA), Oracle (ORCL), MasterCard (MA), Coca-Cola (KO), Procter & Gamble (PG), Citi (C) or Disney (DIS).

Even the $100bn added to the buyback authorisation on Tuesday will not be enough to achieve Apple's goal of reducing its net cash balance to zero over time. That balance was $145bn by the end of March.

Neither will the increase in the dividend, which pushes Apple's planned annual dividend bill to $13.2bn and makes it the biggest dividend payer in the world, according to Mr Silverblatt.

That dividend bill surpasses ExxonMobil's (XOM) $12.8bn and the $12bn paid annually by Microsoft (MSFT) and AT&T. In fact, Apple's annual dividend payment is now greater than the market cap of 141 companies in the S&P 500.

The payout is still less relative to its market cap than the payments made by ExxonMobil, Microsoft and AT&T, but Apple's dividend yield — payouts over the preceding 12 months versus its share price — has been broadly competitive with the rest of the S&P 500 for several years. It is only its soaring share price that has pushed the yield slightly behind that of the broader market recently.

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