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Apple Reports 'Record' iPad Debut, Returns Cash to Shareholders

Plans to Pay a Dividend And Buy Back $10 Billion of Its Stock

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Apple Inc. plans to pay a dividend and buy back $10 billion of its stock, returning some of its $97.6 billion in cash and investments to shareholders as demand for iPhones and iPads boosts earnings.

Investors will receive a quarterly dividend of $2.65 a share starting in the period beginning July 1, Apple said today in a statement. The buybacks will begin in the fiscal year starting Sept. 30 and will take place over three years, according to the Cupertino, Calif.-based company.

Apple's cash pile has swelled amid surging demand for products such as the iPhone and iPad. Investors had urged Apple to return some of the balance in the form of a dividend. CEO Tim Cook fueled speculation an announcement might be coming when he said this year that Apple had "more than we need to run a company" and that the board was considering its options.

"We are extremely confident in our future and see tremendous opportunities ahead," Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer said in the release. Apple said it plans to pay out about $45 billion over three years.

The dividend will cost Apple about $10 billion a year and represents a yield of 1.8% on the stock's March 16 closing price. The company generated $16 billion in cash in the first quarter of fiscal 2012, which ended in December. Shaw Wu, an analyst at Sterne Agee & Leach Inc., predicts that Apple will generate about $75 billion in cash this year. Apple rose 2%, to $597.31, at 9:30 a.m. EST.

Record iPad debut
"This is something that large shareholders have been asking for," Wu said before the announcement. Analysts at Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase & Co.and Mizuho Securities USA Inc. had predicted that Apple would institute a dividend. The dividend is in line with estimates from at least four analysts.

The growing amount of money on Apple's balance sheet followed the introduction of the iPhone, the best-selling smartphone, and the iPad, the leading tablet computer. Last week the company began selling a third-generation iPad, which comes with a high-definition screen and faster processor. Apple had a "record" weekend with the debut, Cook said on a conference call today, though he did not elaborate. He did say Apple has sold 55 million iPads since the launch in 2010.

With the new iPad and Apple's extensive marketing strategy, tablets are primed to become mass market. From its launch last week, the new iPad was available in big-box retailers Best Buy, Radio Shack, Sam's Club, Target and Walmart in the U.S. and in nine other countries, adding dozens more on Friday. The release also makes the last-generation iPad 2 $100 cheaper.

'War chest'
A dividend is a boon to shareholders who have seen the company's stock rise 45% so far this year. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who died in October, long resisted calls to return some of the money to investors.

"We have used some of our cash to make great investments in our business through increased research and development, acquisitions, retail store openings, strategic prepayments and capital expenditures in our supply chain, and building out our infrastructure. You'll see more of all of these in the future," Mr. Cook said in the statement. "Even with these investments, we can maintain a war chest for strategic opportunities and have plenty of cash to run our business."

On the conference call, Mr. Cook said that adding a dividend will expand Apple's investor pool. Some will buy shares only in companies that pay a dividend. Apple last paid a dividend in 1995, before Jobs returned as CEO and led the introduction of top-selling products, including the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

Of Apple's $97.6 billion in cash and investments at the end of December, about $64 billion was overseas.

Apple has surpassed Exxon Mobil Corp. as the world's most valuable company. The iPhone maker's market value is $545.97 billion, based on its closing price of $585.57 on March 16. That compares with $407.4 billion for Exxon Mobil.

-- Bloomberg News --

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