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The holiday season is fast upon us. And this year, the world's most valuable company is doubling as the Grinch who stole Christmas. No, Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL ) CEO Tim Cook hasn't disguised himself as Dr. Seuss' fictional character, but rather the company has earned a Grinchy reputation through its reluctance to issue a special cash dividend, something many other U.S. businesses are doing.
As it stands, hundreds of public companies have come out of the woodwork recently to declare one-time special dividends, payable before year's end. Last month, 228 such companies emerged, according to reports from The Wall Street Journal. This surge in payouts is a reaction to possible tax increases that could go into effect in early 2013.
Familiar names, such as Whole Foods (NASDAQ: WFM ) , Costco (NASDAQ: COST ) , and Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS ) have all caught dividend fever. Whole Foods plans to pay a special cash dividend of $2 a share on Dec. 21, whereas Costco issued a generous $7 per share payout due on Dec. 18. Meanwhile, casino operator Las Vegas Sands took matters a step further promising shareholders a one-time payout of $2.75 per share -- or close to 6% of its share price.
Keeping with the anti-dividend holiday spirit
With all of these companies seemingly putting stakeholders first, where does Apple get off being greedy with its cash hoard? As fellow Fool Rick Munarriz points out, the Mac maker pulled in more than $50 billion in operating cash flow over the last year alone. That's boatloads more than both Whole Foods and Costco combined. Still, Apple has yet to follow suit and declare a one-time special payout -- a wise decision, in my opinion.
I see this as Apple's way of reassuring shareholders that it can successfully put its cash to work by reinvesting in its own businesses. After all, isn't this what we used to love about Apple when it was everyone's favorite growth stock?
Earlier this year, Apple gave in to the markets' will and issued its first quarterly dividend since 1995. However, I agree with analysts at Deutsche Bank who insist "the company is more focused on building a track record of predictable dividend growth" rather than indulging shareholders in a one-time special payout just because everyone else is doing it.
Apple isn't known as being peer-pressured into business decisions, and this time is no different. Everyone knows that Apple is good for the money. The tech giant's balance sheet reflects a whopping $121 billion (and counting) in cash and marketable securities. But, perhaps, Apple's reluctance to issue a special dividend indicates that the company has devised a better way to spend its cash. Whatever the case, the role of Grinch is necessary, as it reminds us what's really important. Bigger picture, these one-time dividend payouts will have little impact on the shareholders whom receive them or the companies issuing them.
Either way, I believe shares of Apple are worth buying into the new year. If you're looking for more insight, I encourage you to check out our updated analyst research report on Apple.
There's no doubt that Apple is at the center of technology's largest revolution ever, and that longtime shareholders have been handsomely rewarded with over 1,000% gains. However, there is a debate raging as to whether Apple remains a buy. The Motley Fool's senior technology analyst and managing bureau chief, Eric Bleeker, is prepared to fill you in on both reasons to buy and reasons to sell Apple, and what opportunities are left for the company (and more importantly, your portfolio) going forward. To get instant access to his latest thinking on Apple, simply click here now.