Why Apple's Accelerated Share Buyback Is a Great Sign

Apple is very bullish on its future, and just put its money where its mouth is.

Feb 10, 2014 at 3:00PM

Wall Street may have been disappointed by Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) most recent quarter, but the company's management team takes a different view. Shares of the technology giant fell hard after results were released, and it was revealed that Apple had accelerated its share repurchases. The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple bought back $14 billion of its own shares in the two weeks following its quarterly results, a pace far ahead of the $5 billion repurchased in the previous quarter.

Apple CEO Tim Cook stated that management wanted to be aggressive and opportunistic in buying back shares after the stock declined 8% on the day of the earnings announcement. Here's why the strategy was right on the money.

Wall Street was disappointed, but Apple sees things differently
It's abundantly clear that the market was disappointed over Apple's fiscal first-quarter results. While the underlying results themselves were impressive, Apple nonetheless failed to hit Wall Street expectations.

In all, Apple sold 51 million iPhones, compared to 47.8 million iPhones in the holiday period the year prior. That represents nearly 7% growth. The company also set a record for iPad sales, which reached 26 million in the first quarter. That was 13.5% year-over-year growth from the 22.9 million iPads sold in the same quarter of 2012.

Overall, Apple generated record quarterly revenue of $57.6 billion, which grew nearly 6% year-over-year. Diluted earnings per share rose 5%, which was important for Apple to demonstrate a return to profit growth in light of broad concerns over gross margins.

Disappointment in Apple needs context
Apple's results may have disappointed Wall Street, but its growth was notable in light of the struggles endured by its closest rival, Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF). Samsung's mobile device segment saw operating profit fall by 18% in the most recent quarter. The company posted a drop in quarterly profit, the first such quarterly decline in two years. Clouding things further was the fact that management stated it would be difficult to grow profit in the current quarter.

While the market demonstrated its disappointment in Apple by selling off shares after the earnings report, Apple management reiterated its own optimism through the accelerated buyback. The company believes it's got a bright future, which management reiterated by buying back so much stock in such a short time. This optimism is entirely believable, since it's likely we'll see some new products in 2014.

In the coming year, we could see a new iPhone, the much-anticipated iWatch, or some kind of Apple television. Whatever the future has in store, there are plenty of new revenue streams for Apple to tap into. Also, that's not even including the potential of the newly formed partnership with China Mobile (NYSE:CHL). That will now allow Apple's devices to be sold to China Mobile's 750 million customers, not to mention the synergy possibilities once all those customers enter the Apple ecosystem.

Apple's strategy: buy low
Often, companies buy back their own stock at precisely the wrong time. In other words, companies tend to buy back shares only after the price has hit multi-year or all-time highs. Buybacks soared in 2006 and 2007, then dried up in 2008 and 2009 during the heart of the recession. This stands to reason, of course, since companies typically have a lot of cash to fund these buybacks during a strong economy.

However, for investors who follow the tried and true "buy-low, sell-high" methodology, the same concept should be applied to corporate share repurchases. It makes perfect sense that Apple would accelerate a buyback when its shares fall, since that will provide the most accretive benefit to shareholders. While outright market timing is foolish, it seems like a shrewd move for Apple to purchase more shares near $500 per share, rather than wait for a significantly higher share price.

The Foolish takeaway
Apple is clearly confident in its future product pipeline, which could include a new iPhone, a television, or the iWatch. Management proved how confident it is in the company by buying $14 billion of its own shares after releasing its most recent quarterly report. This, along with a meaningful new product release this year, may be just the trick to produce strong earnings growth in 2014 and significantly unlock shareholder value.

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Bob Ciura owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and China Mobile. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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