Apple's record $60-billion stock buyback cheers investors

Apple released its second-quarter earnings Tuesday, but investors were more excited by the company's eye-popping $60-billion stock buyback.

The buyback goes down as the largest share repurchase in history, funded by Apple’s massive cash hoard, which currently stands at about $145 billion.

Apple also announced that its board of directors had approved a 15% increase in the company’s quarterly dividend and has declared a dividend of $3.05 per common share, payable May 16, to shareholders of record as of the close of business May 13.

"We are very fortunate to be in a position to more than double the size of the capital return program we announced last year," Chief Executive Tim Cook said. "We believe so strongly that repurchasing our shares represents an attractive use of our capital that we have dedicated the vast majority of the increase in our capital return program to share repurchases."

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All told, the company said it expected to return a total of $100 billion of cash under the expanded program by the end of 2015.

Apple is dramatically expanding its share buyback program to $60 billion from $10 billion. The move comes after Apple's shares have plummeted more than 42% in the last six months. Generally it's a good idea for strong companies to buy back shares at a potential low point; many companies do the reverse and buy back stock at an unsustainable high, only to watch the shares fall and in effect waste their money.

"We will continue to return capital to shareholders," said Peter Oppenheimer, Apple’s chief financial officer. "We continue to generate cash in excess of our needs to operate the business, invest in our future, and maintain flexibility to take advantage of strategic opportunities."

Apple announced the stock buyback and its earnings after the markets closed. The news at first sent shares up 5% in after-hours trading; as of 4:10 p.m. Pacific time, they were about flat.

In case you're wondering, here are some of the largest stock buybacks to date:

Microsoft, $40 billion. Announced in 2008.
Microsoft, $36 billion. Announced in 2006.
Time Warner, $20 billion. Announced in 2006.
General Electric, $15 billion. Announced in 2004.
ConocoPhillips, $15 billion. Announced in 2007.


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