Apple, Inc. Can't Give Away Its Cash Fast Enough

Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) cash horde is the stuff that legends are made of, particularly before the Mac maker initiated its capital return program and its money mountain never seemed to stop climbing higher. Apple has boosted its capital return program twice now, with most of the increases being dedicated toward share repurchases.

Yet, Apple can't seem to give its cash to shareholders fast enough.

A trip down memory lane
Back in 2012, Apple announced the initiation of a dividend alongside a relatively modest $10 billion share repurchase program. Dividend payouts started in Q4 2012, and share repurchases commenced the very next quarter. Here's a timeline of how the capital return program has changed in the past couple of years.





March 2012

$35 billion

$10 billion

$45 billion

April 2013

$40 billion

$60 billion

$100 billion

April 2014

$40 billion

$90 billion

$130 billion

Source: Apple press releases.

The capital return program has now nearly tripled over the course of 2 years. That's what I call aggressive. At $130 billion, Apple's program is larger than many mega cap stocks. Theoretically, you'd think that such a massive program would help Apple reduce its overall cash position as it works to give as much of that back as possible. After all, that was sort of the idea in the first place.

You'd be wrong.

Making money faster than you can spend it
Apple simply generates cash faster than it can give it back. Back when the capital return program kicked off in Q4 2012, Apple had a total of $121.3 billion in cash. After factoring in the two separate bond offerings over the past two years, Apple's current net cash position is $141.2 billion.

Source: SEC filings. Fiscal quarters shown.

In the chart above, if you add long-term debt to net cash, you get Apple's gross cash position of nearly $165 billion. Apple's net cash position is what's important here though, since Apple's use of debt is merely a way to avoid repatriation. Net cash has still increased by nearly $20 billion since the program started.

Apple has now completed $74 billion of its $130 billion capital return program. Of that total, approximately $51 billion has been allocated to share repurchases with the remaining $23 billion going toward dividends. The thing is that Apple has generated $109.3 billion in operating cash flow over that same time period. Even Apple's enormous capital return program isn't able to keep its net cash position from rising over time. This raises an inevitable question: should Apple be even more aggressive with returning cash?

Moving parts
Last year, activist investor Carl Icahn was pushing Apple to boost its buyback program to $150 billion. Icahn was "extremely pleased" with the company's latest increase to $90 billion. As Apple approaches its current authorization, another increase wouldn't be out of question.

As Apple continues repurchasing shares, not only does it free itself from having to pay dividends on those retired shares, but it also reduces its payout ratio. As repurchase activity drives EPS growth while dividends rise at a more modest rate, Apple's payout ratio should trend lower and make its dividends seem even more affordable. For reference, Apple's payout ratio last quarter was 37%.

Easier said than done
There are a couple limitations worth noting. Not all of Apple's cash flow is domestic, and its capital return program must be funded with domestic cash. The Mac maker's domestic coffers currently stand at $26.8 billion. That's after selling $12 billion in bonds because it needed more domestic cash. Apple also has other operational needs for cash, such as the $18.5 billion in capital expenditures over that same time period.

Despite its best efforts, it looks like nothing can stop Apple's net cash from continuing to gradually rise.

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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 July 28, 2014, at 1:02 PM, RussellL wrote:

    "Apple, Inc. Can't Give Away Its Cash Fast Enough"

    Yet they still try to defend their No Poach Agreements that illegally suppressed employee pay and the colluding with publishers that raised ebook prices for consumers.

  • Report this Comment On July 28, 2014, at 4:39 PM, VernDozier wrote:

    Your right, RussellL.

    A company who can't allocate funds to hire employees, that ensure the company's activities are compliant with Anti-Trust, Labor Law, SEC law seems to pick-and-choose which laws apply to them, and look for loopholes. Apple is currently a company without a country that it reports to.

    Remember when Apple Director, Al Gore had to bail Steve Jobs out, and lead an internal investigation with Steve Jobs backdating stocks purchases? It's a pretty crazy scheme happening over there in Cupertino. Perhaps there should be a Federal Whistleblower Office across the street from Apple's shiny new HQ.

  • Report this Comment On July 28, 2014, at 9:22 PM, 1ponder wrote:

    "They still try to defend..." Maybe they don't think they did anything wrong.

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Evan Niu

Evan is a Senior Technology Specialist at The Motley Fool. He was previously a Senior Trading Specialist at a major discount broker. Evan graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, and is a CFA charterholder.

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