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Apple Stock May See a Dividend Increase This Month

By Daniel Sparks - Apr 21, 2020 at 6:45AM

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Here's why the tech giant may boost its dividend -- even during a pandemic.

Technology giant Apple (AAPL 0.88%) is slated to report its results for its fiscal second quarter later this month. When the update goes live, investors will be paying close attention to how much the coronavirus pandemic negatively impacted the company's results. In addition, investors will likely look to management's guidance for its current quarter to assess the impact on its business since the close of fiscal Q2 in March.

But beyond Apple's quarterly results and management's guidance, there's another area investors in the tech stock may want to check on: Apple's dividend. The company typically announces a dividend increase alongside its fiscal second-quarter results -- and this year's April update will likely be no exception.

Apple store in Bangkok, Thailand

Image source: Apple.

Will Apple boost its dividend during this pandemic?

Since initiating its dividends in 2012, the tech giant has increased its quarterly dividend every year since. With a dividend history like this, most investors are probably assuming the tech giant will announce yet another dividend increase alongside its fiscal second-quarter results on April 30.

But these are unusual times. In February, Apple pulled its guidance for fiscal Q2 as the company endured production constraints and weakening demand for its products in China amid factory shutdowns and store closures during coronavirus pandemic. Of course, as the quarter progressed, demand likely suffered in markets beyond China as well since COVID-19 quickly became a global issue.

Despite these near-term challenges for Apple, there's still a good chance that the tech company will boost its dividend once again. This is because Apple has committed to working toward achieving a net cash neutral position, meaning that its total cash is equal to its total debt. At the end of Apple's most recently reported quarter, the tech company still had $99 billion more cash on its balance sheet than it had debt. Even more, CFO Luca Maestri reiterated during the earnings call that the company continues to target a net cash neutral position. If Apple were to pause its dividend increases, it would slow the company's progress toward its goal of becoming net cash neutral -- and the company is still arguably far away from this target.

Apple can weather just about anything thrown its way

Additionally, while Apple's ability to generate excess cash will likely take hit temporarily if sales falter during this coronavirus pandemic, the company will likely still continue generating substantial levels of positive free cash flow. Its trailing-12-month free cash flow was $64 billion -- and that was on $268 billion of sales. It would take a massive downturn in sales, therefore, for free cash flow to dip to levels that Apple wasn't able to pay out its dividend. Of its $64 billion in trailing-12-month free cash flow, just $14 billion was paid out in dividends.

With heady cash flow like this, it's highly likely that Apple will maintain its streak of annual dividend increases.

Investors who are curious about what Apple will do with its dividend can tune into the company's fiscal second-quarter results after market close on Thursday, April 30.

Daniel Sparks has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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