One of the frustrating things for shareholders is how readily companies give away stock. A huge company like Apple has been giving away huge amounts of stock (through stock options) even while adding tens of billions in cash to their stockpile.
Outstanding stock for Apple
Jan 2006 – 848 million shares
Jan 2007 – 862 million shares
Jan 2008 – 879 million shares
Jan 2009 – 891 million shares
Jan 2010 – 907 million shares
Jan 2011 – 921 million shares
Jan 2012 – 932 million shares
Jan 2013 – 939 million shares
So even in the last year, while promoting a $10 billion buyback – the net result was 7 million more shares (not fewer as a “buyback” suggests); it did reduce the amount of increase to less than it has been recently. 7 million more shares * $425 = $2.975 billion more stock in place. If Apple uses $50 billion more to buy back stock that would allow purchase of 100 million shares at $500 a share ($500 is less than I would guess the average price will be, but we will see what actually happens). That would get the share balance back to the Jan 2006 level, if there were not huge new additions during the buyback period (which there probably will be).
Companies certainly like to heavily publicize share buyback programs. They don’t trumpet how much additional stock they issue each year with the same zeal (most of which, for successful companies not in desperate need for cash, is provided through extremely sweetheart stock options for executives and board members at the expense of diluting stockholder’s equity – the easiest form of excessive executive pay to give away as it doesn’t cost the company cash).
It will be interesting to see to what extent share buybacks actually decrease the share balance and to what extent they just eliminate the exploding issuance of shares Apple has engaged in while piling up the largest cash reserves ever recorded.
Given Apple’s financial position I do not believe diluting stockholders equity by issuing huge amounts of stock was a wise policy the last 7 years. I think reversing that policy is wise. Buying back the stock they gave away is sensible but it would have been wiser not to give so much away in the first place. I’ll be surprised, and happy, if the outstanding share balance drops below 890 million (the Jan 2009 figure).
I do think Apple is a great buy at these levels (I bought some more last week). The earnings reported today are not as spectacular as those reported recently but they still made a profit of $9.5 billion in the quarter (and had positive cash flow of $12.5 billion bringing total cash on hand to $145 billion). It isn’t like this is a company that is failing. It is just a company that isn’t growing earnings as rapidly. They are still earning enormous amounts of cash.
The decline in margins is disappointing (but not surprising) but the margins are still great (just not as amazingly great as recently). The worry over further declines in margins seems justified to me and is one of the big risks for the stock going forward. I think margins will remains at a level that justifies a much higher price than the stock has today, but only time will tell.
I would have liked to see the dividend increase more, but a dividend increase was a good move.