Fools know the value of a stock split: zero. It's a non-event. Instead of a $20 bill in your wallet, you now have two $10 bills. So if they mean nothing, why do them? There are a few reasons, none of which has anything to do with whether the stock is a good investment. Here are the usual ones:
- To make the stock look cheap.
- To increase liquidity.
- To meet stock-exchange listing requirements.
- To express a bullish management sentiment.
Regardless of the reason, markets tend to view splits as positive events, and a company's shares can get a short-term boost from the news. But if the company isn't a good, long-term business, it doesn't matter if its shares split, or whether you buy them before or after.
Just the other day, an analyst at Bernstein Research said it was his heartfelt belief that Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) was ready to split its stock sometime in the next six months. While the iPhone and iPad maker has publicly given no indication that it intends to do so, it also wouldn't be an anomaly: It last split its shares in 2005.
The Bernstein analyst says Apple is putting out feelers about a split, and the last time it did that, it had to do with a dividend, which investors got shortly thereafter. Put the two together -- paying a dividend and a lower share price -- and you have a strong candidate for index inclusion.
A split decision
Earlier this year, Apple launched the third-generation iPad, and over the coming months we should see the iPhone 5 hit the street. In its rare earnings miss last month, it reported selling "only" 26 million iPhones -- much less than the 28 million or 29 million Wall Street was anticipating -- because consumers were reputedly waiting for the next iteration to drop. The iPhone 5 is expected to sell as many as 50 million units at launch, making it perhaps the greatest consumer-electronics gadget debut ever.
Some think that with Samsung, Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) , LG, and other handset makers coming out with new models every other month, Apple needs to speed up its refresh cycle, too. I've argued that doing so would reduce its iconic phones into just another commodity no longer able to command the premiums they currently enjoy. Even though Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Android platform dominates the market with a 56% share, that's spread over numerous handset makers. Apple's iOS is obviously home to just one and places second at 22.9%.
Keeping tabs on the competition
It's in the tablet market that Apple rules the roost, where two-thirds of the global market is the iPad. Far behind with a 7.5% share is Samsung. When it comes to tablet computers, Apple is the market. Indeed, when you look at individual regions, there's virtually no competition. In China, market researchers at Analysys International say the iPad commands almost three-quarters of the industry. Lenovo, which is made in China, has only an 8% share.
The popularity of the iPad is more than just a consumer phenomenon, as businesses are increasingly using it as a tool for productivity. To seriously crack that market, Apple needs to prove it is a secure product, which was the driving force behind its decision to buy AuthenTec (Nasdaq: AUTH ) , an end-to-end security specialist best known for its fingerprint identity systems, such as those commonly found on Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) laptops.
It's also a chance to tweak the nose of rival Samsung, since the handset maker had recently signed on for AuthenTec to provide security across all of its platforms. Analysts believe that it won't use the service if Apple owns it. Of course, others have speculated that it may turn around and try to outbid Apple for the company.
Even as analysts predict Apple will benefit from the coming business boom, CAPS member TheGIJane thinks it may even become the standard: "... as more and more small business owners realize that going Apple means; A. Minimal training time for new employees, and B. The entire IT department can be slashed from the budget, and C. No more down time from crashing computers, Apple should be outperforming on [its] way to replacing Microsoft as the computer standard."
Price is what you pay
At 11 times earnings estimates, Apple seems cheap, but when you consider that its enterprise value trades at just 12 times the free cash flow it generates, this is a bargain-priced stock. At $620 a share, many investors might balk at buying in, though if it split 2-for-1 it could become more enticing at $310. Pricing its shares at $60 after a 10-for-1 split just might ignite a buying frenzy.
I've already rated Apple to outperform the indexes, but do you think a split is on the horizon? Tell me in the comments box below what ratio you think would balance Apple's needs against the desires of the market.
Split the difference
Apple remains one of the greatest plays in all of tech and is ready for a new run. You can grab the Fool's new premium research report on the company that details all the risks and opportunities -- including the three areas you must watch -- by claiming your copy today. To make things even better, you'll get 12 months of updates afterwards.