Apple Seen Paying Some of $97.6 Billion in Cash as Dividend

Apple Inc. (AAPL), which plans to discuss its $97.6 billion in cash and investments in a conference call today, is likely to announce a dividend, according to analysts’ predictions.

Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook and Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer will host the call, scheduled for 9 a.m. New York time, Cupertino, California-based Apple said in a statement yesterday. The company didn’t elaborate on its plans, and said it won’t discuss topics besides cash.

“They should pay a dividend,” said Shaw Wu, an analyst at Sterne Agee & Leach Inc. “This is something that large shareholders have been asking for.”

Apple’s cash pile has swelled amid surging demand for its products, such as the iPhone and iPad. Investors have urged Apple to return some of the balance in the form a dividend. Cook fueled speculation an announcement might be coming when he said this year that the company has “more than we need to run a company” and that the board is considering its options.

Apple directors held a meeting in the past few weeks to discuss the plans, said Wu, who predicted that Apple will announce an annual dividend of 2 percent to 3 percent of its share price. That indicates a dividend of $11.71 to $17.57, based on Apple’s closing share price of $585.57 on March 16. In German trading today, the stock gained 3.1 percent to the equivalent of $601.39 at 10:03 a.m. in Frankfurt.

Steve Dowling, a spokesman for Apple, declined to elaborate on the statement.

Apple may issue a quarterly dividend of $2 a share, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The estimate is based in part on the dividends paid by other large technology makers, including Microsoft Corp. and International Business Machines Corp. Brian Marshall, an analyst at ISI Group, projects an annual dividend of $14.65 a share.

While a share buyback is also a possibility, a dividend is more probable, Wu said.

Apple and Google Inc. (GOOG), owner of the most-popular search engine, are the only technology companies with market values higher than $100 billion that don’t pay a dividend.

Apple generated $16 billion in cash in the first quarter of fiscal 2012, which ended in December. Wu predicts that Apple will generate about $75 billion in cash this year. Analysts at Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Mizuho Securities USA Inc. also have predicted that Apple will institute a dividend.

The growing amount of money on Apple’s balance sheet has followed the introduction of the iPhone, the best-selling smartphone, and the iPad, the leading tablet computer.

The company last week began selling a third-generation iPad, which comes with a high-definition screen and faster processor.

A dividend would be an added boon to investors who have already seen the company’s stock rise 45 percent this year. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who died in October, long resisted calls to return some of the money to investors.

Apple last paid a dividend in 1995, before Jobs returned as CEO and led the introduction of top-selling products including the iPod, iPhone and iPad. The final dividend, of 12 cents a share, was suspended amid leadership upheaval and dwindling computer-market share. According to a company filing, Apple’s cash, equivalents and short-term investments dropped by about half, to $491 million, in the year through Sept. 29, 1995.

Highlighting its turnaround since that period, Apple has surpassed Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) as the world’s most valuable company. The iPhone maker’s market value is $545.97 billion, compared with $407.4 billion for Exxon Mobil.

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