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These 4 Tech Stocks Should Raise Their Dividends

By Leo Sun - Jan 12, 2020 at 12:20PM

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These four tech giants are oddly frugal when it comes to dividends.

Young tech companies typically don't have much cash to spare. If they start growing rapidly, they usually spend their excess money expanding their businesses. But that momentum inevitably wanes, and mature tech companies often run out of ways to deploy their capital -- so they spend their cash on stock buybacks or dividend disbursements instead.

Many companies offer generous buyback and dividend plans. Texas Instruments (TXN 2.21%), for example, consistently returns "all" of its free cash flow (FCF) to investors via buybacks and dividends.

However, other companies are more frugal than TI and pay lower dividends than they can afford. Today, I'll highlight four mature tech companies that should raise their dividends to reward patient shareholders.

Green shoots grow out of stacks of coins.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Apple

Apple's (AAPL 4.08%) stock more than doubled over the past 12 months as its iPhone sales stabilized, its services business continued expanding, and its outlook in China improved. However, that rally boosted its forward P/E to 21 and reduced its forward dividend yield to 1%.

Apple typically favors buybacks over dividends. It funds a large portion of its buybacks with debt, since most of its cash remains overseas. That strategy made sense when Apple's P/E ratio was lower, but that multiple is now hovering at its highest level in over a decade.

Over the past 12 months, Apple spent just 24% of its FCF on dividends. Last quarter, it bought back $18 billion in shares but paid out just $3.5 billion in dividends. Therefore, Apple could arguably double its dividend if it simply dialed back its buybacks -- which might attract more income-oriented investors.

2. Sony

Sony's (SONY 1.90%) stock surged more than 40% over the past 12 months as the strength of its image sensor and music businesses offset its weaknesses in gaming and consumer electronics. That rally boosted its forward P/E to 17 but reduced its forward yield to just 0.5%.

Sony spent less than 5% of its FCF on its dividend over the past year, and 25% went toward buybacks. Last quarter, senior executive VP Hiroki Totoki told analysts that Sony would place "a higher priority on M&As and organic investments" over repurchases or dividends.

That strategy makes sense since the company is ramping up production of its image sensors for smartphones and gearing up for the launch of the PS5 next year. However, Sony could still easily afford to double its dividend as investors wait for those growth engines to pick up steam.

Sony's PS4 and PSVR headset.

Image source: Sony.

3. Oracle

Over the past few years, Oracle (ORCL 1.56%) tried to pivot its core business away from its legacy on-premise database software toward cloud-based services. Unfortunately, it struggled with tough competition from Amazon, macro headwinds, and the death of co-CEO Mark Hurd -- who previously led its cloud-based push.

To offset the sluggish revenue growth of its core business, Oracle launched massive debt-fueled buyback plans to boost its earnings growth, which sparked allegations that it was merely "buying" its earnings beats. Meanwhile, it only spent 25% of its FCF on its dividend, which translated to a forward yield of 1.8%.

If Oracle simply reduced its buybacks and boosts its dividend, it could attract more income investors -- especially since the stock trades at just 13 times forward earnings.

4. Tencent

Tencent (TCEHY -0.39%) is one of the largest tech companies in China, but it only pays a forward yield of 0.5%. That paltry dividend used up less than 10% of its FCF over the past 12 months. Unlike the other companies on this list, Tencent doesn't deploy much cash on buybacks either -- it spent less than 3% of its FCF on buybacks last quarter.

Tencent is frugal with shareholder returns because it's investing heavily in the expansion of its gaming, social networking, fintech, and cloud ecosystems in its competitive battles against Alibaba, Baidu, and ByteDance.

That's understandable, but Tencent can clearly afford to boost its dividends and buybacks -- which would reward investors who weathered the stock's poor performance over the past two years amid the U.S.-China trade war and the temporary suspension of new gaming approvals in China.

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Stocks Mentioned

Apple Inc. Stock Quote
Apple Inc.
$149.64 (4.08%) $5.86
Sony Corporation Stock Quote
Sony Corporation
$92.26 (1.90%) $1.72
Oracle Corporation Stock Quote
Oracle Corporation
$72.78 (1.56%) $1.12
Tencent Holdings Limited Stock Quote
Tencent Holdings Limited
$43.86 (-0.39%) $0.17
Texas Instruments Incorporated Stock Quote
Texas Instruments Incorporated
$177.97 (2.21%) $3.84

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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