The dividend and buyback announcement comes three days after the launch of Apple's latest iPad tablet in the U.S. and nine other countries. Cook said sales the first few days set a record, but he gave no details.
Cook said the company also considered splitting its stock and continues to look at that option. Stock splits increase the number of shares while reducing their value, potentially making it easier for small investors to buy them. But Cook said "there's very little support" for the idea that stock splits can help the stock overall.
Cook suggested that the dividend could have been larger if U.S. tax laws were different.
Cook said that as Apple analyzed how much it could give out to shareholders, it looked solely at the cash it has in the U.S. Like many big exporters, Apple has much of its cash overseas —some $64 billion, specifically.
Apple is reluctant to bring back overseas profits. In addition to being taxed in their respective countries, those profits would be subject to the 35 percent U.S. corporate tax rate.
"Current tax laws provide a considerable economic disincentive to U.S. companies that might otherwise repatriate a substantial amount of foreign cash," Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer said.
Cook said Apple looked at how much domestic cash it had, then set aside enough for planned investments and unforeseen outlays. What was left over would be given out to shareholders, he said.
That suggests that if Apple could bring back its $64 billion in overseas money, the rewards to shareholders could be larger. Corporations have been clamoring for a change in tax laws, or a repeat of a 2004 tax amnesty on repatriated earnings.
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