Apple may break open $98B piggy bank, stock surges

By Peter Svensson

Associated Press

Published: Monday, March 19 2012 6:25 a.m. MDT

NEW YORK — Apple Inc. said it will announce the outcome of its internal discussion concerning its enormous cash balance on Monday morning.

Analysts expect Apple to institute a dividend. It can easily afford one, since it had $97.6 billion in cash and securities at the end of last year. That would be enough for a $100 one-time dividend for every shareholder, but analysts expect the company to institute a modest recurring dividend.

Apple CEO Tim Cook and Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer will discuss the decision on a conference call at 9 a.m. Eastern time (1300 GMT) Monday morning, the company said late Sunday.

A dividend would reward shareholders and open ownership of Apple shares to a wider range of funds. Many "value-oriented" funds are not allowed to buy stocks that don't pay dividends.

Analysts say the lack of a dividend or other meaningful way of using the cash has held down Apple's share price.

Oppenheimer said on a quarterly conference call with analysts in January that the board was in "active" discussions on ways to use the cash. Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, haunted by lean years in the mid-1990s, likely stood in the way of returning cash to shareholders. Jobs died in October.

Partly in anticipation of a dividend, Apple's stock has risen 37 percent since the Jan. 24 conference call, closing much of the gap between analyst price targets and the actual stock price. In February, Apple shares broke the $500 level for the first time. Last week, they briefly rose above $600.

Apple is the world's most valuable publicly traded company, with a market capitalization of $545 billion.

Its shares closed Friday at $585.57, up 1 cent on the day.

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