Microsoft boosts dividend, OKs share buyback plan
Microsoft raised its quarterly dividend to 28 cents from 23 cents, a 22 percent jump.
Seattle Times technology reporter
In another step in a summer of big moves for Microsoft, the company Tuesday said it is boosting its quarterly dividend to 28 cents from 23 cents per share, a 22 percent increase.
In addition, the Microsoft board authorized a new stock buyback program of up to $40 billion to replace one set to expire Sept. 30. The new program has no expiration date.
The moves come at a time when some big shareholders are said to be pressuring the company to return some of its big cash hoard to shareholders.
The dividend increase was something analysts had been expecting, given that Microsoft has hiked its dividend around this time each year for the past few years.
The amount was also in line with recent precedent.
Last September, the company raised its dividend 15 percent over the previous year.
The years before that had seen a 25 percent and 23 percent jump respectively.
“I don’t think this is out of step with what they’ve done in the past,” said Sid Parakh, analyst with Seattle-based McAdams Wright Ragen.
The dividend increase and the stock buyback program are also “clearly ways that the company is trying to tell shareholders: ‘We’re listening, we understand your concerns; we’re trying to do what we can,’ ” Parakh said.
Shareholders have long grumbled about Microsoft’s flat share price and that discontent seemed to find voice and results this summer with the push by activist investor ValueAct Holdings for a seat on Microsoft’s board.
The dividend is payable Dec. 12 to shareholders of record on Nov. 21. The ex-dividend date will be Nov. 19.
Though a dividend rise was expected, the 22 percent boost was “a bit larger than the 15 percent” Wall Street analysts had expected, longtime Microsoft analyst Rick Sherlund wrote in a note to investors this morning.
Sherlund, who works for investment bank Nomura, added in his note that the move “likely signals some ongoing changes in corporate governance.”
Microsoft recently announced a huge companywide reorganization; that CEO Steve Ballmer would retire within 12 months once his successor is appointed; a board seat for a ValueAct representative; and the purchase of Nokia’s entire handset operation.
Sherlund noted that the new share buyback program replaces one that was also worth $40 billion and that “the pace of share repurchase had slowed at the company so it is not clear that the new program implies any more aggressive plans.”
Microsoft has been buying back about $5 billion a year in stock, he said in an interview.
Microsoft did not say whether it plans to buy back more than that amount yearly and the company rarely talks about that in advance, Sherlund said.
He also said Tuesday’s announcements are an indication of changes “that we believe could benefit shareholders over the next six to 12 months,” Sherlund wrote.
A new CEO may decide to rein in Microsoft’s sprawling array of businesses. Sherlund has proposed the company focus more tightly on Windows, Office, and its IT and corporate offerings, while jettisoning Bing and Xbox.
Tuesday’s moves come ahead of a financial analysts meeting that Microsoft is holding Thursday at 1 p.m. at which Ballmer, Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner are expected to discuss the company’s reorganization and its shift toward becoming a devices and services organization.
The meeting, to which the media are not allowed, will be webcast.
One thing Sherlund will be watching for is how aggressive Microsoft plans to be in its move to subscription models for its software services such as Office.
“Adobe was quite extreme in pushing a subscription service,” Sherlund said. “Will Microsoft make this optional? Will we continue to be able to buy Office as in the past? We’re assuming it will be optional in the next five to 10 years.”
But if Microsoft chooses to be “more forceful with the change, it could have a pretty significant effect on the Street’s estimate,” he said.
At the meeting, analysts will also be keeping a keen ear on what Microsoft’s leaders say about the company restructuring and what that means for its financial reporting.
Microsoft had been reporting its financial results by segmenting its myriad products and services into five divisions. Under that system, sales and profits for some products — such as Windows — has been pretty clear. But it also obscured how well or poorly some other products — such as Windows Phone — were doing.
At the financial analysts meeting, Microsoft is expected to outline its new financial reporting structure.
Microsoft shares closed Tuesday at $32.93, up 13 cents.
Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @janettu.