Every three months Apple announces its quarterly earnings, and we see the company's huge pile of cash grow to increasingly awe-inspiring heights. Like clockwork, a day or two after the earnings announcement comes calls for Apple to give some of that money back to its shareholders in the form of dividends.
Reuters claims that these calls for dividends are getting louder, and some investors are getting restless. Apple's US$98 billion cash horde is so big that it represents a value of $104 per share, a big slice of the current $444 per share stock value.
Several Wall Street analysts are convinced that Apple will pay a dividend to investors in 2012, but they say that every year. Apple has not paid dividends on its stock since 1995, and Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer has stated that the money isn't burning a hole in Apple's pockets. CEO Tim Cook and Oppenheimer revealed that Apple is actively looking at what to do with its money, but neither of the executives would commit to a firm comment on the company's intentions.
One major stumbling block is that most of Apple's cash is tied up overseas -- $64 billion of its $98 billion. Repatriating that money to the US would subject it to a 35 percent tax, skimming over $22 billion off the top... something that Apple has lobbied against.
Within the next few days I predict we'll see another wave of posts predicting huge company acquisitions -- finish your drink if you see "Apple could buy Facebook" in your RSS reader before the end of the week. That's also an unlikely scenario; Apple has a history of buying smaller companies that aren't already household names, and it usually only drops a few billion dollars in the process.
Much like the iPad cannibalizing the Mac, I suspect Apple's executives see the company's cash stockpile as a nice problem to have. It affords the company a great deal of flexibility; Apple could make zero dollars in revenue for the next seven straight years and still be able to sustain its current operating expenses. With dividends and major acquisitions likely out of the picture, there's no way of knowing what Apple intends to do with its money... though I have my own loony ideas about that.