Move over Dow 13,000. The big event on Wednesday is the Nasdaq topping 3,000 -- if only briefly -- for the first time since December 2000, when the dot-com bubble was in the midst of deflating. You can thank the usual suspect for Nasdaq's milestone: Apple Inc. continues to gain, rising 1.3 per cent to a new high and pushing its market capitalization above $500-billion.
Apple made some headlines on Tuesday after it sent invitations for an upcoming event in March, hinting loudly that it will unveil a third version of its popular iPad tablet computer. A new version has been widely anticipated for months as a likely response to growing competition within the tablet universe. While the iPad has maintained its leadership at the high end of the market, there are some concerns that lower-priced tablets are taking significant market share at the lower end.
However, enthusiasm over an iPad3 might not be the only thing driving this latest round of enthusiasm for Apple. Speculation that the cash-rich company will start paying a dividend is also alive and well.
Bloomberg News stoked such speculation on Wednesday with an article that suggests -- with some detail -- Apple will use some of its $98-billion (U.S.) cash hoard to declare a quarterly dividend of $2-a-share by the end of the year. According to Bloomberg, this estimate comes from examining dividends paid by two other cash-rich technology companies, International Business Machines Corp. , and Microsoft Corp.
As Bloomberg noted, though, even a $2 dividend amounts to a total payout of just $7.5-billion a year. "A dividend could provide a boost to Apple by attracting a new class of investors that only hold stock in dividend-paying companies," the article said. "Apple also may buy back shares, another move that could lift its stock price."
Nonetheless, a modest dividend payment would pale next to Apple's recent share price gains. A $2 quarterly payout would give the shares a yield of just 1.5 per cent, based on the current share price -- which seems insignificant next to the more-than 30 per cent gain in the share price this year alone. Perhaps the dividend enthusiasm comes from the belief that an initial payout would be just the start of something much bigger.