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Will Apple's Dividend Boost Have to Wait?

By Evan Niu, CFA - Apr 16, 2013 at 8:00PM

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Investors are now one week away from Apple's earnings, yet the company remains silent on its dividend plans. Will the inevitable dividend increase have to wait until after earnings?

Where, oh where, could Apple's (AAPL 4.08%) inevitable dividend boost be? Investors have been clamoring for months for Apple to give more back, but to no avail.

The latest official word was when CEO Tim Cook vaguely reiterated that management's talks over returning more cash remain "very, very active." That echoes Apple's statement that it issued in response to David Einhorn's media blitz, saying the company continues to have "active discussions" on the topic.

Some investors superstitiously thought Apple could announce the boost on the one-year anniversary of the dividend, driving shares higher the day prior, but that was nearly a month ago. All's been quiet on the iDividend front. Will Apple's dividend boost have to wait?

Bernstein Research analyst Toni Sacconaghi believes Apple investors will have to keep sitting tight. The Mac maker's fiscal second quarter earnings release is just around the corner, and Sacconaghi thinks the company won't announce any dividend increases until after the results. Investors could have a couple weeks of waiting before any capital allocation announcements are made. The analyst even thinks Apple is warming up to the idea of taking on debt specifically to fund the dividend, in order to avoid repatriation taxes on its overseas horde.

Earlier in the month, BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk made the case that Apple might be intending on making the dividend announcement alongside its earnings results. Piecyk had issued an upgrade on Apple in March, despite the likelihood that Apple could miss its revenue guidance as well as consensus estimates. A dividend boost would cushion the blow of a top-line miss.

If Apple does so, Piecyk would consider it a somewhat superficial move. Padding soft results with a dividend announcement could be seen as a cop out, as sometimes other companies will use this tactic to distract from poor financial performance by flashing incoming cash in investors' faces ("Hey, look over here!").

With earnings now a week away, it's incredibly unlikely that any dividend news will come before results. Will the boost come during or after?

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