As I wrote yesterday, Apple, the computer and consumer electronics company, is currently trying to get the federal government to give it special $4 billion tax break even as its balance sheet shows it siting on nearly $47 billion of cash and short term investments.
This leads to another longstanding complaint about the company, one voiced by a number of its stockholders: Despite having all that money, Apple refuses to pay a dividend. That is, whereas, say, Microsoft stockholder get a quarterly payment of 16 cents per share, Apple shareholders get zero. Now, to be fair, Apple shares have increased a lot in value and the shareholders aren't exactly suffering, and there are legitimate reasons for a technology company to hold onto a fair amount of money to spend on expansion,research and development, buying the rights to products and inventions, and buying other firms outright.
But if I'm not mistaken, Apple's cash hoard is actually larger than the combined total market value of all but the largest 100 or so of the firms in the S&P 500. (If you're not familiar with the term, "market value" is what you get when you multiply all of a company's shares on the stock market times the price per share.) It's not easy to what Apple could spent such a huge amount of money on. That's why a lot of Apple stockholders would like to see the company start paying a dividend.
This is not a new complaint, of course. Almost a year ago, Richard Waters, a blogger for The Financial Times, posted an open letter to Apple's board strongly suggesting they might want to reconsider their policy.
Full disclosure: While I don't hold any shares of Apple stock as an individual, I do have some in retirement accounts held in mutual funds (though I couldn't tell you offhand how much it amounts to or even the percentage), so I would likely benefit at least a bit myself were Apple to start paying a dividend.