Tech titans have started graduating into a new class of stock. Microsoft (MSFT 2.14%) has been paying dividends for more than a decade. Cisco Systems (CSCO 1.69%) followed suit three years ago, and Apple (AAPL 1.41%) kicked off its own dividend policy the next summer.
These tech stocks have become legit dividend plays. Their dividend yields currently range from a soft 1.6% for Apple to a meaty 2.8% from Cisco, and all of these payouts are backed by fantastic cash flows. The former growth darlings have grown up, appealing to value and income investors as well.
But not all tech giants have taken this step. Among the holdouts, many investors hope that Google (GOOG 0.87%) (GOOGL 0.92%) will join the dividend club soon. With a staggering $62 billion in cash equivalents and liquid investments, Google seems ripe to share the wealth with its shareholders.
So when will Google start offering a dividend payout?
As a longtime Google stock owner myself, I hope the answer lies many years down the road.
Wait, what? That's heresy!
I know, I know. The power of dividends springs from compound returns over many years. It's a kind of magic. The sooner you get started, the greater the long-term returns. This is how income investors make their millions. So why shouldn't Google start shoveling cash down the dividend funnel as soon as possible, so its investors can enjoy a long and fruitful dividend income stream?
Because Google has many better places to use its cash right now. And unless I'm completely wrong about the company's position and management's ambitions, that will be the case for many more years -- maybe even decades.
Google really needs to spend its cash on innovation
Google is very busy with expanding its business reach. It's not all about online search ads anymore, and some of the new ideas require some serious capital investments.
Big G invests billions of dollars in seemingly crazy projects like self-driving cars and a cure for human aging. The company innovates like crazy, and most of the big ideas won't yield profits or even revenues for many years -- if ever. Because, you see, it's not all about the money for Google's founders and leaders. These guys actually want to change the world for the better, and the business results simply follow from solving the toughest problems available.
I won't bore you with all the details here, but feel free to follow the links in the previous paragraph for more information on Google's culture of innovation. These are the things that keep CEO Larry Page and Chairman Eric Schmidt up at night, and why they hold on to so much cash.
I'm all for great dividends, but Google is not ready to start sharing its cash with shareholders quite yet. The company is too busy spending this money on next-generation growth drivers.
And that's the way I like it. Leave the dividend game to the tired hands, to the innovation engines running out of steam, to the fantastic cash-cow businesses that prefer not to change the world anymore. Like Cisco and Microsoft, and even Apple.
All of them remain great businesses and can be fantastic investments in their own right, but they just can't match Google's expensive drive for progress and new ideas.
Come back in a decade or two, and you might get a different answer. But right now, I would be shocked and downright disappointed to see Google unveiling a quarterly dividend policy.