Last month Apple declared a dividend and a buyback package, but its actually a positive indicator for tech M&A at all but the highest levels, since it takes several alternatives off the table.
First, clearly it removes the threat of its disbursing anytime soon any large special payout to shareholders, such as Microsoft did with its $32B back in 04. At that time MSFT had about $50B on hand, and distributed about two-thirds of it on the special and other dividends; by contrast Apples dividend will cost it only about $10B/yr relative to a $100B+ it has now. Thats far less than even the cash its generating each quarter.
Second, Apples buyback package is even smaller $10B over 3 years. So these moves are unlikely to result in any significant depletion of the companys money stockpile, a clear sign management has other intentions for it.
Third, these decisions are evidence against a mega-acquisition, since if the company was considering spending a large portion of its cash on a single deal, it would have been prudent and likely to delay any other drain on its treasury before the full cost of purchase and integration was established. Therefore, with these risks of other uses of the cash removed, the outlook for smaller scale M&A is increased.
Finally, Apples subsequent announcement last month that it does not intend to repatriate its overseas cash (nearly two-thirds of its total) in advance of a US tax holiday thats unlikely given the political landscape, is a clear signal that the company will be especially open to making additional acquisitions outside the US. As we mentioned in our March Tech M&A Monthly webinar comments about Apples acquisition of Chomp, a search engine and social merchandising platform for apps, Apple ecosystem players should at least be prepared for opportunity and for the risk their competitors catch a bid first by considering their options and how long this favorable timing window may continue.