Was It a Mistake to Buy Apple Inc. (AAPL)?

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Apple Inc. (AAPL)There’s an old rule of thumb among long-term investors that says as long as we are happy with a company’s fundamental performance, we should take advantage of short-term panics to buy up shares cheap.

So when Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) revealed a mere 18% rise in revenue for the quarter ending December, and a record quarterly profit that was only a little up on the same period last year, I watched the resulting fall in the share price and pounced. Apple shares were added to the Beginners’ Portfolio at a buy price of $458.40. (It’s not real money, but other than that I’m running the portfolio just like a real one.)

The end of growth?
Then came Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s first-quarter results for 2013, and profits fell for the first time in a decade, by 18%. And the share price today? Well, it’s down to $417.20, for a fall of 9% since our purchase. So was it a mistake to add the shares to the portfolio? Let’s consider a few things…

For the quarter, revenue actually rose 11% compared to the same period a year ago, but it was falling gross margins that did the damage to profits — 37.5% this time, compared to 47.4% a year ago, and pundits are expecting around 35% going forward.

But Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) did manage to shift 37.4 million iPhones and 19.5 million iPads during the quarter and, although Mac sales dropped 2%, that’s against a general fall in sales of conventional PCs of 14%.

Don’t forget the income
For years, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has resisted paying any dividends, instead building up a huge cash mountain to use for whatever new idea came along. And though many saw Apple as a perpetual growth company, rational folk know there is no such thing. In fact, the introduction of a dividend was a major sign that a shift toward becoming a mature company with a new focus on providing income was in progress — and at the end of the day, it’s only that eventual potential income that gives any growth company its value.

The quarterly dividend has now been hiked by a very nice 15%, to $3.05 per share, and that alone represents a 3% yield over the full year. But it’s not the end of it — Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) intends to return a total of $100 billion to shareholders by the end of 2015, partly through a big rise in its share buyback program from $10 billion to $60 billion.

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) shares are on a price-to-earnings ratio of only around 10, which is way down from a five-year high of nearly 40, and that provides even more evidence to me that the shares are currently priced as a long-term income-paying investment — and that’s no bad thing.

You may not be surprised to learn, then, that I’m still happy for the portfolio to hold Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) shares, because I do think that it will be a nicely profitable investment over the next decade or two.