Risk & Compliance

From the Oracle’s Mouth: Its First Div

Software giant's decision to pay a nickel quarterly, described by CFO Jeff Epstein, runs counter to the spate of cuts elsewhere in industry — most ...
Stephen TaubMarch 18, 2009

Against the grain of company after company slashing dividends, Oracle announced its first payout ever.

The software giant will pay a 5-cent quarterly, for an annual rate of 20 cents, declaring that the dividend policy now will add a new dimension to the way it rewards investors – limited in the past to stock repurchases, acquisitions, and technological improvements. The nickel-a-share will be paid May 8 to stock of record April 8.

Oracle executive vice president and CFO Jeff Epstein noted that non-GAAP operating income was $2.6 billion in the third fiscal quarter, up 15 percent over the same period last year, resulting in operating margins of 46 percent. He also noted the company generated $8 billion in free cash flow in the past 12 months, up 14 percent over the same period last year.

“We are committed to delivering value to our stockholders through technology innovation, strategic acquisitions, stock repurchases, and now through a dividend,” said Oracle president Safra Catz, who noted the free cash flow position as well, and said that “we are running our business at record operating margins.”

The announcement could, of course, signal that the company plans fewer acquisitions as a use for its cash. Technology companies in a growth mode typically preserve cash to reinvest in the business or to buy smaller competitors. But whatever the strategy behind it, the stock jumped nearly 7 percent in after-hours trading Wednesday.

The announcement runs counter to a rash of dividend slashes or eliminations by companies that have long traditions of paying dividends, and regularly raising them. One dramatic slasher this week was Alcoa, which on Monday cut its dividend by 82 percent, to 3 cents a share from 17 cent quarterly, the first time it reduced the payout in more than a quarter century. “Today’s actions better prepare Alcoa to manage through a prolonged downturn,” Klaus Kleinfeld, Alcoa’s president and chief executive, said in his statement.