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Apple announces dividend as iPad sales rocket

22 march 2012, 10:46
An employee carries boxes countaining Apple's new iPad at Apple's flagship store. ©AFP
An employee carries boxes countaining Apple's new iPad at Apple's flagship store. ©AFP
Apple announced Monday it will spend part of its massive cash hoard to pay its first dividend since 1995, and trumpeted that it had sold three million new iPads on the opening weekend,AFP reports.

Apple also revealed plans to buy back $10 billion in shares while still adding to the billions it has in its coffers.

"The new iPad is a blockbuster with three million sold -- the strongest iPad launch yet," said Apple senior vice president of worldwide marketing Philip Schiller.

Apple stressed that its dividend and stock buy-back plan, which will tap into cash reserves of $98 billion, will not restrict its ability to invest in research, develop new products, or pursue valuable acquisitions.

"Innovation is the most important objective at Apple and we will not lose sight of that," chief executive Tim Cook told analysts in a conference call. "These decisions will not close any doors for us."

Apple said it would pay a quarterly dividend of $2.65 per share from its cash balance generated from sales of its hugely successful gadgets like the iPad and iPhone.

The dividend payment would start with the quarter which begins in July.

Apple said it expected the repurchase program to be carried out over three years beginning October.

Chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer described the company as generating enough cash to easily accommodate the dividend -- amounting to $10 billion a year -- and the stock buyback without biting into Apple's resources.

In the company's 2011 fiscal year, Apple generated $31 billion in surplus cash. In the first quarter of 2012, it added another $24 billion.

"That's plenty of cash to run the business," said Oppenheimer.

Apple is hauling in cash at such a breathtaking pace that its coffers are expected to continue swelling despite paying dividends and buying back stock.

Analysts were pleased that Apple finally decided to loosen its purse strings and pay dividends but were unimpressed with the amount, which was described as below average for successful technology companies.

Apple shares climbed with the news, hitting $604.62 in trading that followed the close of the market.

Looking past the mountain of cash, some in Silicon Valley saw the dividend as the first major move distinguishing Cook's style from that of his predecessor, legendary Apple co-founder Steve Jobs who died of cancer last year.

Jobs, who rescued Apple from the brink of bankruptcy, was tight-fisted when it came to Apple holding onto money.

"Tim is a bit more reasonable," said Gartner analyst Van Baker.

"Tim stood up at Jobs's public memorial and said that Steve told him not to ask what Steve would do but to ask himself what is right, and he thinks this is the right thing to do."

Cooked said that the potential for iPhones in the booming smartphone market is "enormous" and that iPads have a prime position as demand for tablet computers is poised to overtake interest in desktop or laptop computers.

The iPad has had "an amazing start," selling 55 million since it was launched in early 2010.

"We had a record weekend and we're thrilled with it," he said of the new iPad launch.

Apple's income promised to get another boost on Friday with the release of the new-generation iPad on Friday in 24 more countries including Spain, Italy, Poland, Mexico and New Zealand.

Mainland China was noticeably absent from an iPad release schedule that included Hong Kong and Macau.

Baker suspected that Apple was withholding iPad from China to pressure authorities there to resolve a nettlesome trademark battle with Chinese computer firm Proview Technology.

Debt-laden Proview is suing Apple in China for trademark violation for calling its tablet computer "iPad."

"It wouldn't surprise me if they are trying to use that as leverage," Baker said of not releasing new iPads on mainland China. "Because people want iPads and wouldn't be able to get them until the trademark issue is fixed."

Proview is also suing Apple in the United States, but using a different legal tact by accusing the California-based technology company of fraud and unfair business practices.

Proview's Taiwanese affiliate registered "iPad" as a trademark in several countries including China as early as 2000 -- years before Apple began selling its product.

Apple subsequently bought the rights for global trademark, but Proview claims the Taiwanese affiliate had no right to sell the Chinese rights.

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