Donald Trump’s plan to get US companies to repatriate cash from overseas by giving them a tax break has resulted in Apple pledging to buy back 12 per cent of its equity, spending $100bn. President Trump is currently concerned about the impact on markets of his trade manoeuvres with China and other nations – and this release is likely to help ease negative sentiment surrounding the tech sector, which has been a major driver of the bull run in equity markets. Chief executive Tim Cook even referenced the tax moves in his opening remarks.
“Tax reform makes it possible for us to execute our program more efficiently, both for share repurchases and payment of dividends to the tens of millions of investors who own Apple stock, either directly or indirectly, from large pension funds to individuals with a retirement account,” Mr Cook said.
Apple took advantage of President Trump’s decision to temporarily reduce the tax rate for companies when they bring cash back to the US from overseas to 15.5 per cent, far below the 35 per cent that would have applied previously.
Apple was already implementing a $210 billion buyback, which was due to be completed by March of 2019. This will now be finished by June this year and the $100bn announced overnight is in addition to this amount. The iPhone maker also raised its quarterly dividend by 16 per cent to 73 cents a share, a move which will see an additional $2bn returned to investors.
Ahead of the numbers there had been some concern that smartphone sales were slowing. This was sparked by an apparent slowdown in the chip sector, a major supplier to the smartphone industry, in the first few months of the year. This followed a cut in guidance from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) and AMS reporting first-quarter sales toward the lower end of its guidance.
However, Apple sold 52.2 million iPhones in the three months to March, up 3 per cent year-on-year which was only slightly below market expectations. There was even better news at its services unit (iCloud, Apple Music, App Store and others), where revenues jumped almost a third to $9.1bn. Longer term, it is this part of its business that should take up the slack as its device market matures. Indeed, management plans to double revenues in services between 2016 and 2020. The unit added 30 million subscribers in the past three months, bringing the total to 270 million.
Mr Cook also dismissed recent market concerns about the market maturing. “We still believe that over time every phone sold will be a smart phone, so it seems to us... that's a pretty big opportunity,” he said. There is also a substantial opportunity in Asia, with sales growth of more than 20 per cent in Japan and the Greater China markets.
The news is positive for markets generally, as sentiment around the entire technology sector has waned recently. It will almost certainly please Donald Trump.
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