Microsoft Announces Dividend Hike and Buybacks

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Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) announced Tuesday morning that it would raise its quarterly dividend by $0.05 to $0.28, a boost of 22%, and that the company’s board had approved a new $40 billion share repurchase program to replace an existing $40 billion buyback program that expires at the end of this month. There is no expiration date on the new buyback program.

At the end of June the company said it held about $77 billion in cash and short-term investments, and we already know that it will pay $7 billion for Nokia Corp.’s (NYSE: NOK) smartphone business. Microsoft’s cash flow from operations in the June quarter totaled nearly $6 billion, and the dividend boost will cost the company about $400 million a quarter. That still leaves plenty of cash around to fling at marketing new phones and the new Xbox One and Windows 8.1.

But then what? It doesn’t cost much to search for a new CEO, at least by Microsoft’s standards. How about another acquisition? Say, BlackBerry Ltd. (NASDAQ: BBRY)? Nah, forget that. Wearable computing? Fighting competition to its Office productivity products from free or inexpensive options like Google Docs?

Microsoft needs a home-run. It needs to re-establish its credentials as a leader, not a laggard. That is what the new CEO will be expected to do. Here’s wishing him or her good luck.

Investors like the dividend increase and the buyback program. Shares of Microsoft are up about 2% at the open on Tuesday morning at $33.41, in a 52-week range of $26.26 to $36.43.