NEW YORK (Real Money) -- There's an interesting blog post on the Yahoo! Finance Blog Network, by a guy named Microfundy. In it, he talks about Apple (AAPL) and its strong performance over the last 10 months or so.
He makes a couple of noteworthy points.
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1. Apple has paid out more than $100 billion through stock buybacks and dividends since it had begun its capital-return program.
2. Apple has passed $700 billion in market capitalization, but as it pays out more to shareholders, it is becoming increasingly difficult for it to raise its market cap further.
In the post, Microfundy discusses how if Apple had never started a capital-return program, its market cap would have gone over $775 billion by now.
The post made me think of how Apple has performed this year. It's up 48% for the year, as of Tuesday. That's remarkable for a company with such a high market cap.
Most people seem to attribute that performance to the capital-return program, which had preceded the run-up in the stock most recently.
I disagree, although it is an impossible argument to prove.
However, in my view, that conclusion is mixing correlation with causation. It's not the capital-return program that had made people want to buy the stock. Rather, it's the new product cycle.
The stock didn't start going up when the capital-return program was announced. It started going up when Apple had reported great earnings in April. That earnings report was a signal that a lot of people loved Apple and continued to buy its products, especially the iPhone, in droves.
Then, as people adjusted to the good news, it started to look forward to the coming raft of new product announcements. Eddy Cue stated at the Re/Code conference in May that the Apple roadmap was the most exciting he'd seen in the last 25 years. The good feelings continued growing over the summer.
The stock split seemed to get people excited, even though there's not a rational reason for why that should be the case, because nothing is really changing. Yet it seemed to act as an encouragement.
I believe Apple would have traded at around the same price, if it had not done any capital return. But as Microfundy points out, the total market cap of Apple would have been higher.
More important, Apple would have had an extra $100 billion in capital on its balance sheet. That would give it a quarter of a trillion dollars of cash. There's a lot you can do with $250 billion.
Then it could have actually spent some money on better batteries.
The capital-return plan has been a bust for investors.
(Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Real Money Nov. 26 at 4 p.m. EST.)