Apple Inc.’s (AAPL) eagerness to spend the record amount of cash it has built up could see the iPhone maker nearly double its dividend yield and smash earnings per share forecasts by repurchasing a significant amount its own stock, Wall Street brokerage UBS has predicted.
In a research note, reported on by CNBC and The Street, analyst Steven Milunovich said Apple’s plans to become “cash neutral” after generating a record cash pile of $285.1 billion will, at the very least, likely lead the company to ramp up its stock repurchase program over the next few years. This scenario alone, he added, could boost Apple’s EPS by as much 30 percent above current estimates.
“We think Apple leans toward buybacks with the potential to increase the dividend yield closer to other large technology companies,” Milunovich wrote in the note to clients. (See also: Apple Gears Up to Spend All Its Cash.)
The analyst presented a number of different paths that Apple could take to achieve its goal of becoming cash neutral. His peers on Wall Street believe the most likely is to double buybacks to $60 billion over the next six years and boost its dividend yield from 1.6 percent to 3 percent. Under that scenario, Milunovich said Apple can achieve zero net cash by fiscal 2023, while paying out a dividend in line with some of its tech peers.
Wall Street is confident that Apple will use some of its cash pile to increase dividend payments. However, while the board did commit to an annual dividend at the company’s shareholder meeting earlier this week, Apple executives also noted that CEO Tim Cook is “not really a fan” of special one-time payouts.
Milunovich also explored the possibility of Apple only using share buybacks to trim down its cash. If the company pursued that path he said it could repurchase 10 percent of its shares each year and achieve zero net cash as early as 2021. Such an aggressive stock repurchase program, he added, would lift earnings by as much as 30 percent from estimates.
Apple’s huge cash pile has also led some investors to speculate that it could follow Amazon.com Inc.’s (AMZN) lead in buying big companies. Milunovich predicted that the prospect of huge M&A moves is unlikely.
“On the M&A front we expect Apple to continue its strategy of filling technology or personnel gaps with small tuck-in acquisitions,” he wrote. “Transformational M&A would result in a collision of different cultures and priorities, which Apple has thus far avoided.” (See also: Apple May Lose Crown As World’s Most Valuable Company.)