While Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL ) quarterly results will certainly get their share of attention when the company reports earnings on Wednesday, much of the market's focus will likely be on the possible update on its plans to return cash to shareholders. Will the tech giant boost its dividend? And, more importantly, will it boost its share repurchase program?
The program today
Apple first addressed investor concerns for its growing cash hoard in 2012, when it initiated a dividend and promised to repurchase $10 billion worth of shares. But it wasn't until 2013 that Apple really put some muscle behind the program. About a year ago, Apple more than doubled the amount of cash it plans to return to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases. Along with a 15% increase to its dividend, Apple boldly boosted the amount authorized for repurchases by the end of 2015 from $10 billion to $60 billion.
But with much of the authorized repurchases already exhausted, investors are hoping Apple will boost the program again. With the help of a recent opportunistic repurchase of $14 billion worth of shares when Apple shares sold off to levels around $500 after the company reported first-quarter results, the authorized cash for repurchases is running low.
Despite Apple's aggressive share repurchase program and meaningful dividend, the company's cash hoard hit an all time high of $158.8 billion in the first fiscal quarter of 2014. With so much cash on the balance sheet, investors expect the company to take its program a notch higher this week.
Chances are, Apple will boost both its dividend and its repurchase program. To put Apple's current program in perspective, consider that Apple raked in $44.2 billion in free cash flow in the trailing 12 months alone. Further, Apple's current dividend payout only amounts to 29% of Apple's earnings.
While a dividend boost is less likely, a boost to Apple's repurchase program is almost certain. Not only is the authorized amount for repurchases nearly exhausted, but shares still trade at just 13 times earnings and about 25% below all-time highs -- great levels for shareholder-friendly share buybacks.
Of course, the fact that the majority of Apple's cash is overseas is a limiting factor to the potential for Apple to effectively use its cash for repurchases and dividends. This may lead the company to seek further low-interest forms of financing. But given the low interest rates available to Apple, a boost to its program to return more cash to shareholders will likely benefit investors even if financing is required.
Keep an eye out for an update this Wednesday, when Apple announces second-quarter results. Apple CEO Tim Cook told The Wall Street Journal, it plans to provide updates on its buyback program in April.
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