Track the companies that matter to you. It's FREE! Click one of these fan favorites to get started: Apple; Google; Ford.



What If Apple Followed Warren Buffett's Advice?

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) will announce plans for its cash hoard next month, according to Howard Ward, chief investment officer at investment firm Gamco. But if this rumor proves true, the most important question remains unanswered: How will Apple return cash to shareholders? Would the company be wise to take ace investor Warren Buffett's advice, and repurchase more shares?

Share buyback programs enhance shareholder value
Share buybacks offer corporations a tax-free way to build shareholder value by buying back their own shares and, in turn, increasing shareholders' ownership percentage per share.

Buffett has been known to criticize companies for buying back their shares, but it's never because he thinks share repurchase programs are inherently bad. Instead, he criticizes companies for overpaying for their own stock.

As Buffett outlined in the 2011 Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A  ) (NYSE: BRK-B  ) letter to shareholders, he "favor[s] repurchases when two conditions are met: first, a company has ample funds to take care of the operational and liquidity needs of its business; second, its stock is selling at a material discount to the company's intrinsic business value, conservatively calculated."

When a company buys back its own shares, they should be "purchased below intrinsic value," Buffett explains. Price is everything: "The first law of capital allocation -- whether the money is slated for acquisitions or share repurchases -- is that what is smart at one price is dumb at another."

With $137 billion in cash and investments, Apple has plenty of excess cash. As far as the second condition, Buffett signaled a go-ahead in his March 4 appearance on CNBC, when he commented on Apple's cash hoard, "But if you could buy dollar bills for 80 cents, it's a very good thing to do."

Comparatively cheap and ripe for a buyback
Even if Buffett thinks Apple is cheap, Berkshire didn't disclose any positions in Apple in the its Feb. 14 13-F filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. His comments, nevertheless, are encouraging to Apple shareholders.

Investors don't need to look far for proof that Apple is cheap. Based solely on fundamentals, Apple appears cheaper than nearly every company in the S&P 500.

Even Berkshire has made investments in both IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) and Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) in recent years, despite Buffett's famed aversion to tech stocks. Though Berkshire sold the Intel shares less than a year later for a 25% gain, its investment in semiconductor technologies shows that even Berkshire is sometimes willing to put its money behind highly concentrated technology blue chips when the price is right. In fact, IBM remains Berkshire Hathaway's third-largest public holding. 

When measured by P/E, Apple now trades in line with Intel, and at a significant discount to IBM.

AAPL PE Ratio TTM Chart

AAPL P/E Ratio TTM data by YCharts.

Apple was trading at a premium to IBM as recently as August 2012. But over the last six months, Apple has lost about 40% of its value as investors have grown concerned with declining margins and increased competition.

But a quick overview of Apple, Intel, and IBM's respective markets reveals far greater growth opportunities for Apple than for both Intel and IBM. Intel and IBM have three-year revenue growth rate averages of 12.8% and 1.6%, respectively. Compare this to Apple's three-year average revenue growth rate of 51.9%.

Even more telling, analysts estimate Intel's and IBM's revenues to increase by a paltry 1.4% and 1.7%, respectively, during the fiscal year ending December 2013. Meanwhile, they forecast Apple's revenue to increase 16.7% during the company's fiscal year ending September 2013.

Last but not least, the bulk of Apple's profits is positioned squarely in the center of an anticipated smartphone and tablet explosion. A report from ABI Research predicts smartphone sales to grow by 44% -- and tablet sales to grow by 125%! -- in 2013.

Apple's a prime candidate for a share buyback
No wonder Buffett encouraged Apple to scoop up its own shares. A purchase near Apple's super-conservative 52-week low would meet both of Buffett's requirements for a well-executed buyback.

Could a more aggressive share repurchase program result from the "active discussions about returning additional cash to shareholders" Apple referred to in its Feb. 7 statement? Maybe.

But no matter what Apple does with its cash, the company trades at such a conservative valuation that almost any method of returning cash to shareholders would likely impact shares positively.

The Motley Fool's chief investment officer has selected his No. 1 stock for the next year. Find out which stock it is in the brand-new free report: "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2013." Just click here to access the report and find out the name of this under-the-radar company.


Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 13, 2013, at 8:00 AM, elmagnifico9000 wrote:

    F*** the shareholders. The market has started to work against the interests of society and progress. Of course I'm talking about the stock market...

  • Report this Comment On March 13, 2013, at 2:34 PM, hembreeder wrote:

    Share buybacks seldom are as profitable as strong investments in research producing new businesses featuring new products that people strongly want.

Add your comment.

Compare Brokers

Fool Disclosure

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 2307812, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 9/25/2016 11:43:05 AM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...

Today's Market

updated 1 day ago Sponsored by:
DOW 18,261.45 -131.01 -0.71%
S&P 500 2,164.69 -12.49 -0.57%
NASD 5,305.75 -33.78 -0.63%

Create My Watchlist

Go to My Watchlist

You don't seem to be following any stocks yet!

Better investing starts with a watchlist. Now you can create a personalized watchlist and get immediate access to the personalized information you need to make successful investing decisions.

Data delayed up to 5 minutes

Related Tickers

9/23/2016 4:00 PM
AAPL $112.71 Down -1.91 -1.67%
Apple CAPS Rating: ****
BRK-A $217750.00 Down -2249.90 -1.02%
Berkshire Hathaway… CAPS Rating: *****
BRK-B $145.00 Down -1.53 -1.04%
Berkshire Hathaway… CAPS Rating: *****
IBM $154.98 Down -1.13 -0.72%
IBM CAPS Rating: ****
INTC $37.19 Down -0.36 -0.96%
Intel CAPS Rating: ****