CHICAGO — Despite continued economic uncertainty, 65% of U.S. restaurant diners expect to spend the same amount at restaurants in 2012, and 12% say they plan to spend more, according to the “2012 Dining Out Report,” released last week by Mintel here.
“Overall, restaurant economic prospects for 2012 look positive,” Eric Giandelone, foodservice director at Mintel, said in a release. “In spite of the down economy, Mintel estimates that the U.S. restaurant industry will be worth $416.4 billion in 2012, showing that operators really have listened to consumer wants and needs and made appropriate changes.”
The report also notes that growing consumer interest in where food comes from, along with the desire for fresh, unprocessed food, will likely lead more restaurant chefs to focus on American regionalism and local sourcing this year.
The new menu labeling law that will require chain restaurants to disclose calorie content and other nutrition information could be enforced the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as early as this year, and the report points out that this could have an unexpected impact on restaurant traffic and trends. More than 40% of survey respondents said that they will make no changes in how they dine out, based on the new calorie information, while 33% say they will order healthier, lower-calorie menu items.
Apple Inc. plans to pay a dividend and buy back $10 billion of its stock, returning some of its $97.6 billion in cash and investments to shareholders as demand for iPhones and iPads boosts earnings.
Investors will receive a quarterly dividend of $2.65 a share starting in the period beginning July 1, Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple said today in a statement. The buybacks will begin in the fiscal year starting Sept. 30 and will take place over three years, the company said.
Apple’s cash pile has swelled amid surging demand for its products, such as the iPhone and iPad. Investors had urged Apple to return some of the balance in the form a dividend. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook fueled speculation an announcement might be coming when he said this year that Apple had “more than we need to run a company,” and that the board was considering its options.
“We are extremely confident in our future and see tremendous opportunities ahead,” Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer said in the release. Apple said the company plans to pay out about $45 billion over three years.
The dividend will cost Apple about $10 billion a year and represents a yield of 1.8% on the stock’s March 16 closing price. The company generated $16 billion in cash in the first quarter of fiscal 2012, which ended in December. Shaw Wu, an analyst at Sterne Agee & Leach Inc., predicts that Apple will generate about $75 billion in cash this year. Apple rose 2% to $597.31 at 9:30 a.m. EST.
Record iPad debut
“This is something that large shareholders have been asking for,” Wu said before the announcement. Analysts at Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase & Co.and Mizuho Securities USA Inc. also had predicted that Apple would institute a dividend. The dividend is in line with estimates from at least four analysts.
The growing amount of money on Apple’s balance sheet followed the introduction of the iPhone, the best-selling smartphone, and the iPad, the leading tablet computer. The company last week began selling a third-generation iPad, which comes with a high-definition screen and faster processor. Apple had a “record” weekend with the new iPad’s debut, Cook said on a conference call today, without elaborating. He did say Apple has sold 55 million iPads since its debut in 2010.
With the new iPad and Apple’s extensive marketing strategy, tablets are primed to become mass market. From launch last week, the new iPad was available in big-box retailers Best Buy, Radio Shack, Sam’s Club, Target and Walmart in the U.S. and in nine other countries, adding dozens more on Friday. The release also makes the last-generation iPad 2 $100 cheaper.
A dividend is a boon to investors who have already seen the company’s stock rise 45% this year. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who died in October, long resisted calls to return some of the money to investors.
“We have used some of our cash to make great investments in our business through increased research and development, acquisitions, new retail store openings, strategic prepayments and capital expenditures in our supply chain, and building out our infrastructure. You’ll see more of all of these in the future,” Cook said in the statement. “Even with these investments, we can maintain a war chest for strategic opportunities and have plenty of cash to run our business.”
On the conference call, Cook said adding a dividend will expand Apple’s investor pool. Some investors will only buy shares in companies that pay a dividend. Apple last paid a dividend in 1995, before Jobs returned as CEO and led the introduction of top-selling products including the iPod, iPhone and iPad.
Of Apple’s $97.6 billion in cash and investments at the end of December, about $64 billion was overseas.
The final dividend, of 12 cents a share, was suspended amid leadership upheaval and dwindling computer-market share. According to a company filing, Apple’s cash, equivalents and short-term investments dropped by about half, to $491 million, in the year through Sept. 29, 1995. Highlighting its turnaround since that period, Apple has surpassed Exxon Mobil Corp. as the world’s most valuable company. The iPhone maker’s market value is $545.97 billion, based on its closing price of $585.57 on March 16. That compares with $407.4 billion for Exxon Mobil.
— Bloomberg News —