When it comes to technology giant Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), the company's new products get much of the attention from investors and the financial media. And for good reason, since the fate of Apple's future depends on the success or failure of its product lineup. The recently announced iPhone 6 and Apple Watch, along with an expected new iPad and the possibility of Apple television, are all important for investors to keep their eyes on. Apple Pay's been generating a fair amount of interest, too.
But for income investors, there is an additional angle, and that's Apple's dividend. Apple re-instituted its dividend two years ago and now pays a $1.88-per-share annual dividend that yields about 2% at the stock's Sept. 18 closing price.
Let's dig a little deeper to determine whether Apple is a good dividend stock to buy.
Apple's dividend is rock-solid
The one key takeaway for investors considering Apple is that, at least from a dividend perspective, Apple's dividend is about as bulletproof as it gets. That's because Apple generates huge cash flow and is in tremendous financial shape.
Apple started its current dividend program in 2012. Since then, the company has raised its dividend twice. Apple has increased its dividend by 11% compounded annually in this time. Apple's strong dividend increases are no surprise, given its superb financial performance. Year to date, Apple's revenue and diluted earnings per share are up 5% and 12%, respectively.
Investors should fully expect strong percentage increases to Apple's dividend going forward, for two main reasons. The first is that Apple has a sterling balance sheet. The company holds $164 billion in cash, short-term marketable securities, and long-term marketable securities. Its immense cash hoard is steadily being deployed to shareholders, and a big part of that includes dividends.
Apple is in the process of returning $130 billion to shareholders in share repurchases and dividends through the end of 2015. At the end of the last quarter, Apple was only about halfway to its goal, meaning there's plenty more in store in terms of direct cash returns. In its April announcement of the $130 billion return of capital to shareholders, Apple said it plans to increase its dividend on an annual basis and said that "with annual payments of $11 billion, Apple is among the largest dividend payers in the world."
The second major aspect of Apple's future dividend prospects is that the company distributes a very small portion of its cash flow. Since Apple is so highly profitable, its payout ratio is very low. Year to date, Apple generated $40 billion of free cash flow. Through this period, Apple has distributed just $8.3 billion in dividend payments to shareholders. That means Apple's payout ratio as a percentage of free cash flow stands at just 20%.
Apple's future dividends are sure to keep rolling in
Since Apple is on the cusp of a major product refresh cycle, it stands to reason that the company's profits and free cash flow will keep growing. That will be directly beneficial to Apple's dividend payments. While Apple's current yield is a little on the low side, at just 1.8%, the company should provide more than enough dividend growth to make an investment worthwhile.
Dividend investors should take note of the income potential for Apple. While its product announcements get most of the attention, Apple is also a compelling investment for its dividend.
Apple's mountain of cash, strong free cash flow generation, and very modest payout ratio should provide years of double-digit dividend increases. Growth investors probably see plenty of reasons to buy Apple, but income investors should feel the same way.
Bob Ciura owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.