If a future in technology doesn't pan out, it looks like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) sure could have a bright future in stock picking, as well.
It's own stock, that is.
By now, hopefully most readers have heard that Apple has purchased roughly $14 billion of its own stock in the two weeks since its subpar earnings report and subsequent share-price swoon.
However, in accelerating the pace of its buyback, Apple could also very well be signaling loud and clear that now is the time for investors to scoop up shares on the cheap while they still can.
Corporate Finance 101: Apple edition
Like insider buying or selling, stock buybacks are a great way for companies to signal to the outside world that they believe their own shares are undervalued.
We've seen companies use stock buybacks with varying degrees of success in the past, but in Apple's case, history could be on its side.
Last April, Apple's board authorized a massive expansion to its capital return program from $45 billion to $100 billion in buybacks and dividends to be distributed by the end of CY 2015. And of that additional $55 billion, $50 billion of the pledged increase was allocated specifically toward additional buybacks.
As Apple's share price sagged throughout the first half of 2013, its management showed its willingness to put its money where its mouth is. During Apple's fiscal third quarter (calendar Q2) last year, Apple went on a buying spree and actually accelerated the pace of its buybacks substantially. All told, it bought back 16 million shares, paying an average of $444.44 (not a typo) during the period.
The timing proved outstanding. Investors who took the accelerated buyback as a signal that Apple's management viewed its shares as too cheap, and bought alongside Apple or closely thereafter, would have netted a 17% gain in only a few months, and potentially much better depending on the exact timing of a given purchase.
Apple is sending the same signal again
This is the key that investors should be focusing on. Apple, by accelerating its buyback pace, is once again publicly demonstrating that it believes its shares are far too cheap. And in reviewing what else we know about Apple's likely moves this year, there's certainly a fair argument to be made for buying today.
As we've all come to expect, Apple will again refresh its two core products, iPad and iPhone, this year. However, with the premium end of the smartphone and tablet space growing increasingly saturated, investors have justifiably limited expectations about Apple's growth prospects here.
However, Apple CEO Tim Cook has been quite vocal about the fact that Apple will enter at least one new product category this year. And although there are plenty of product categories Apple could choose to target, the result -- given Apple's penchant for upending industries -- will likely be the same: growth.
Apple from a contrarian perspective
The current state of affairs at Apple are a great example of the foremost challenges investors face. All too often, it's easy to get bogged down in the current state of affairs at a given company, and simply project that what's happening now will continue to happen in the future. Rather, situations where investors are projecting issues to continue -- like slow growth at Apple -- often prove the most opportune times to buy.
Given the commentary from management about new products in the year ahead, and Apple's recent aggressive stock buybacks, the signal is clear to me.
Investors should take notice.