If only turning Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) around was as easy as boosting its distributions.
Barron's over the weekend argued that the solution to making the fallen market darling popular again is to jack up its yield above 4%.
Bernstein tech analyst Toni Sacconaghi feels that 4% is the "magic number" that starts to woo income investors. That would involve nearly doubling its dividend to more than $18 a year.
Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) can certainly afford to be more generous with its ample greenbacks, and it has publicly committed to that. The world's most valuable tech company plans to return $45 billion to its shareholders through dividends and stock repurchases over the next three years.
The challenge for Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is that it's not as rich as its balance sheet says it is. Apple may have more than $137 billion in cash and marketable securities sitting on its balance sheet, but more than two-thirds of that is parked overseas. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) would have to pay stiff repatriation taxes if it wants to bring that money home.
This means that even something as simple as paying its stakeholders $18 a share -- or 40% of the $44.84 a share that analysts now project in profitability this fiscal year -- would require digging into its reserves, since less than a third of Apple's earnings are originating domestically these days.
Sacconaghi has a solution, but investors aren't going to like it.
Pay to play
Even before Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) initiated a dividend policy last year, Sacconaghi felt that Apple should borrow between $50 billion and $100 billion to turn right around and offer stakeholders a generous dividend.
Barron's is again leaning on Sacconaghi's plan to take on $50 billion in debt to bankroll a 40% payout, though what was a 2.5% dividend then would be a 4% dividend today given Apple's low stock price and substantially higher earnings.
Yes, Sacconaghi's plan that would have given Apple a 2.5% yield at the time has actually nearly materialized organically with Apple's current 2.3% yield. Somehow that still isn't enough for people.
There are people out there that feel that the company with the greatest balance sheet greenery in the country should turn right around for the greatest debt raise ever.
No. I don't think so. A dividend just isn't that important.
Hard times for Mr. Softy
Microsoft's annualized return since it began returning money to investors through regular dividends has been less than 2% over the past 10 years. If we account for the taxable distributions along the way, Microsoft's annualized return is still less than 5%.
A dividend didn't help Microsoft.
It certainly hasn't helped Apple. Shares of Apple have fallen 24% since the company announced its payout policy on March 19 of last year.
If anything, one can argue that introducing dividends could be a tech company's "jump the shark" moment.
Obviously, it doesn't always happen that way. Oracle Corporation (NASDAQ:ORCL) came around to embracing quarterly distributions in 2009 and its stock has nearly doubled in that time. Even Cisco Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ:CSCO) -- a market laggard through most of the past decade -- has beaten the market since it caved in to yield chasers in 2011.