NEW YORK -- Apple is finally acknowledging that it has more money than it needs. But don't expect it to cut prices on iPhones and iPads. Instead, the company said Monday that it will reward its shareholders with a dividend and a share buyback program.
Apple, the world's most valuable company, sits on $97.6 billion in cash and securities. The decision to return some of that money to investors is a clear signal that Apple is taking a different approach in the post-Jobs era.
Former CEO Steve Jobs resisted calls to issue dividends for years. He used to say the money was better used to give Apple maneuvering room to, for instance, make strategic acquisitions. Apple paid a quarterly dividend between 1987 and 1995, a period when Jobs was not involved with the company.
Jobs died in October after a long fight with cancer.
On Monday, new CEO Tim Cook said that, with as much cash as Apple has on hand, a dividend won't restrain the company's options.
"These decisions will not close any doors for us," he told analysts and reporters on a conference call.
Had it kept amassing cash and low-yielding securities, Apple eventually could have opened itself to a legal challenge from shareholders, who could have argued that it was misusing their money.
Cook also suggested that the dividend could have been larger if U.S. tax laws were different.
Apple said that it will pay a quarterly dividend of $2.65 per share, starting in its fiscal fourth quarter, which begins July 1.
The dividend works out to $10.60 annually, or 1.8 percent of the current stock price. By comparison, Microsoft Corp., pays 2.5 percent of its stock price in dividends, and Hewlett-Packard Co. pays 2 percent.
However, in absolute terms, Apple will pay one of the richest dividends in the U.S. It will spend more than $10 billion on dividends in its first year, placing it just below companies including AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., for whom the dividend is the main way of attracting investors.
Exxon Mobil Corp., the world's second largest company by market capitalization, pays about $9 billion in dividends annually.
Apple generated $31 billion in cash in the fiscal year that ended in September, and is on pace to generate even more in the current year. That means its cash pile will continue to grow even with a dividend and a buyback program, albeit at a lower rate.
Even if it had no net cash, Apple would hardly be financially constrained, since it could borrow all the money it needs.
The dividend opens up ownership of Apple shares to a wider range of stock mutual funds, potentially boosting the stock price in the long term. Many "value-oriented" funds are not allowed to buy stocks that don't pay dividends