Apps & Software

Apple's Huge Share Buybacks May Continue

Pressure from Carl Icahn, the activist investor who has taken a stake in Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) and demanded the company return tens of billions of dollars to shareholders, has not worked. Apple’s belief in its own prospects did net investors something: Apple quietly bought back $14 billion of its shares in the last two weeks, and, in a surprise, announced the decision to investors.

And, based on the reasons for the buyback, the process may not be over.

Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, said management was “surprised” when shares plunged about 8% on Jan. 28, a day after reporting fiscal-first-quarter earnings. He insisted in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that Apple remains a growth company with innovative products in its pipeline which will trigger more demand for its products.

His position may be hard to sell. Sales of iPhones and iPads, which generated 76% of revenue in the quarter, have nonetheless been lackluster in recent quarters, at least compared with the pace of sales in the years before co-founder Steve Jobs died.

In the first quarter, Apple posted record revenue of $57.6 billion and net income of $13.1 billion, or $14.50 per diluted share. These results compare to revenue of $54.5 billion and net profit of $13.1 billion, or $13.81 per diluted share, in the year-ago quarter. Gross margin, a widely watched profit metric,  was 37.9%, compared with 38.6% in the year-ago quarter. International sales accounted for 63% of the quarter’s revenue.

The Company sold 51 million iPhones, an all-time quarterly record and up 6.8% from 47.8 million in the year ago quarter. Apple also sold a record 26 million iPads during the quarter, up 6.8% from 22.9 million a year ago. The Company sold 4.8 million Macs, a 5.8% increase from 4.1 million a year earlier.

After falling to $506.50 on Jan. 28, the shares dropped for two more days, bottoming at $499.78. They climbed 4% to $519.68 by Friday. Apple’s shares have struggled since peaking at $704 in September 2012.

Critics have questioned why Apple does not use its cash to buy other companies or add to staff and R&D. Instead, Apple’s board clearly believes the corporation must send a signal to Wall Street. That signal is Apple believes so deeply in its own prospects that its best investment is in its own shares. Because doubts about Apple continue to linger, and could become very serious, the company may need to buy back shares for a very long time. For now at least, it could be the only way to show a deepening conviction in the next year of product releases.

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