“Microsoft Corp. today announced that its board of directors declared a quarterly dividend of $0.23 per share, reflecting a 3 cent or 15 percent increase over the previous quarter’s dividend. The dividend is payable December 13, 2012 to shareholders of record on November 15, 2012. The ex-dividend date will be November 13, 2012.”
The 15% increase is in-line with what was expected from the financial community; personally, I was hoping for a 25% increase to match the percentage move in 2011. Here’s a look at the dividend payout and the increase per year since the company started paying dividends (excluding the special dividend from July 2004):
|FY 2013 (expected)||$0.92||15%|
On the company’s non-GAAP FY2012 earnings per share of $2.78 (which excludes the impairment charge tied to the 2007 acquisition of aQuantive), the expected FY2013 dividend of $0.92 per share equals a trailing payout ratio of 33%. With 8.39 billion diluted shares outstanding at year end, the $0.92 payout has an estimated dollar cost of $7.71 billion (though it will likely end up a bit lower due to repurchase activity throughout the year); with the stock trading at just over $31, the dividend yield is right around 2.96%.
I continue to believe that Microsoft’s aversion to debt issuance is misguided; with a net cash position of $53 billion-plus at June 30th, 2012 (or roughly $6.30/share), the company could issue $8-10 billion in debt, buyback 2-3% of its outstanding shares (in addition to what was planned for the year), and require less capital to fund an equal sized dividend in the process (an $8B repurchase at current prices would cut the dividend payout by $240M in the first year). Why they are letting the cash position continue to build is beyond me - I'm not asking for an "all-in" strategy, there's simply no clear reason why returns to shareholders should lag free cash flow by such a wide margin (this all assumes that management agrees that the stock is undervalued - which I would assume is true based on the things they've said in the past few months).
Microsoft appeared to be heading in that direction in fiscal 2011, when the company repurchased more than $11.5 billion in common stock at an average price of $25.72 per share, and paid $5 billion-plus in dividends. I believe that Mr. Ballmer should stop talking about how “epic” this year will be, and instead suggest the implementation of a material buyback and/or dividend - as opposed to relatively small, in comparison to FCF, $11.4 billion spent between the two activities in fiscal 2012.
The irony of it all is that people generally assume that common stock ownership will align shareholder interests; in the case of Mr. Ballmer, who owned 333 million shares (nearly 4% of the company) as of the most recent proxy filing, it appears that this has done little to persuade him to push for higher returns of excess cash to the owners of the business.