After pulling back on its share repurchasing activity in 2018's fourth quarter due to badly missing its revenue forecast, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has ramped its buybacks up again. The Mac maker repurchased $24 billion worth of its stock last quarter, consisting of $12 billion in open-market purchases as well as a $12 billion accelerated share repurchase program. That was more than Apple repurchased in any quarter of 2018, during which the company bought back a jaw-dropping $71 billion worth of shares in an effort to distribute some of its tax-overhaul related windfalls.
Those massive capital returns may benefit more people than you think.
Cook on buybacks
CEO Tim Cook attended the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting over the weekend since Warren Buffett's conglomerate is one of Apple's biggest shareholders. In an interview with CNBC at the gathering, Cook discussed a wide range of topics, such as his initial reaction when he first learned Buffett had invested in Apple, and how Apple approaches acquisitions, among others. The tech titan even released a new iOS game based on Buffett's childhood job of delivering newspapers.
Cook also briefly talked about Apple's repurchase program, which has a slew of benefits like earnings accretion, dividend savings, and getting closer to an optimal capital structure. Buffett has always been a big fan of Apple's buyback program and has given input to Cook over the years. Cook recalled a phone call he had with Buffett to discuss the topic:
I still remember it. He said, he goes, "Let me just cut through it. If you believe your stock is undervalued, you should buy your stock." And I thought that was just the simplest way of looking at it. So here's what we do is, we first and foremost take care of our people, and we take care of the company and the future of the company.
Once upon a time, Buffett made the same argument to Steve Jobs, but unfortunately, Jobs didn't heed the advice. Jobs preferred to hoard the cash for a rainy day. Cook, on the other hand, is open to deferring to experts when appropriate. "And when I don't have experience in something, I always make a list of the people that I think are the smartest people that I can contact to talk to them and get advice," Cook said. "And Warren was on the top of the list."
Considering its sheer size and presence in most major stock indexes, nearly half of American households hold Apple shares, in Cook's estimation. "We're fortunate in that, when we buy our stock we think that almost 50% of U.S. households own Apple stock, either directly or indirectly through indexes and mutual funds and so forth," Cook said. "And so it helps everybody or helps a large number of people."