Apple expands buybacks by $37.8b, approves 7-for-1 stock split

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Apple has approved another US$30 billion (S$37.8 billion) in share buybacks till the end of 2015 and authorized a rarely seen seven-for-one stock split, addressing calls to share more of its cash hoard while broadening the stock's appeal to individual investors.

The company also approved a roughly 8 per cent increase in its quarterly dividend to US$3.29 per share.

Activist investor Carl Icahn, who had famously called on the iPhone maker to boost its buyback program, tweeted his approval of the move on Wednesday.

Shares of the company, which have remain mired around the US$500 to US$550 range since the start of the year, jumped 7 per cent to US$561.51 in after-hours trade.

On Wednesday, Apple reported sales of 43.7 million iPhones in the quarter ended March, far outpacing the roughly 38 million that Wall Street had predicted. That drove a 4.6 per cent rise in revenue to US$45.6 billion - a record for any non-holiday quarter - and beating Wall Street's projections for about US$43.5 billion.

But whether Apple can again produce a revolutionary new product remains the central question in investors' and Silicon Valley executives' minds. The smartphone market is maturing and rivals like Samsung Electronics and Google are taking chunks out of its mobile-device market share.

Many hope that the next iPhone, which sources have said will sport a larger screen with new display technology, will provide a timely lift to the company's bottom line come September, when Apple usually introduces the latest version of its core product.

Speculation persists that the company will take the lead in wearable devices with a smartwatch or other gadget, given that Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has spoken about "new product categories" for 2014.

For now, the company's momentum in China and emerging markets has been the topic of much discussion in investor circles. On Wednesday, Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri told Reuters the jump in iPhone sales was "very broad-based," but singled out greater China and Japan, where business got a boost from the recent inclusion of NTT Docomo and China Mobile as carrier partners.

Overall revenue from greater China, which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan, climbed 13 per cent to US$9.29 billion in the quarter. Japanese sales rose 26 per cent to US$3.96 billion.