When Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) first announced that it would pay a dividend, a prominent corporate finance professor was quoted as saying that he had sold all of his shares in the company. His decision centered around the fact that by paying a dividend, Apple was effectively changing its shareholder base. Corporate finance principles state that a growth company will hold cash to fuel growth and a value company will return cash to shareholders if adequate investment opportunities are not available. By issuing a dividend, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) was now mixing its shareholder base and creating conflicting priorities. Growth investors are not concerned with returning to cash to shareholders and prefer acquisitions or investments to fuel the stock price. Value investors were more interested in tapping Apple’s coffers to increase yield and buybacks. The stock would climb above $700 before starting the precipitous decline that has attracted more attention than a Kardashian pregnancy.
While poor capital structure decisions contributed to Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s decline, the same decisions may have put a firm bottom in the stock. When the company announced that it would return $100 billion to shareholders and use debt financing, it appeared that Apple has finally embraced the concepts of a value stock. The return of cash essentially reflects the company’s view that limited investment opportunities exist to earn an adequate rate of return. As such, Apple is doing the prudent thing in returning cash in the form of dividends and stock buybacks. At the same time, by issuing debt, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is moving towards an optimal capital structure and lowering its cost of capital due to the lower cost of debt and associated tax benefits. These moves have so far been rewarded by the market, as the company’s stock is up over 15% since the plan was revealed during the most recent earnings release.
There are many factors that likely contributed to the fall of Apple stock since its $700 high, but capital structure decisions do not seem to be widely discussed. If one thing is abundantly clear, Apple, through its own capital structure decisions, is now a value stock.
Apple’s Value Proposition
Embracing Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) as a value opportunity becomes evident when you compare the company to competitors. Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), a company that moved to value territory many years ago, currently trades at a P/E ratio of almost 17 with a dividend yield of approximately 2.8%. Apple offers a nearly equivalent dividend yield of 2.6%, but trades at a much lower P/E ratio of 11. If we take these numbers with the issues Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) has faced with Windows 8 and combine them with Apple’s potential opportunities in new product releases and a China Mobile deal, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is a much more compelling value opportunity than Microsoft.