Microsoft, HP dangle cash to investors

September 22, 2008, 1:44 PM UTC

By Scott Moritz

Big tech is putting its cash to work to appease investors.

Microsoft and Hewlett Packard say they will throw weary shareholders a cash treat. Microsoft created a new five-year $40 billion share buyback plan and an 18% dividend boost. And HP has set aside $8 billion for share repurchases. The top PC maker had $3 billion of buyback money still in its budget under an $8 billion program it started in November.

The buybacks are aimed at restoring investor interest in companies that have had very little to show in terms of growth amid a sluggish tech spending environment. Using some of the mountains of cash also helps discourage activist investors from forcing the companies to make a similar move on somewhat different terms. 

The move comes less than a week after Microsoft shares hit a two-year low on a broad credit-crisis selloff on Wall Street. The No.1 software shop says it has recently completed a previous $40 billion stock repurchase plan and by Microsoft’s tally, the company has now spent $115 billion on stock buybacks and dividends in the past five years.

Microsoft will pay a dividend of 13 cents a quarter, or 52 cents a share. That is up 2 cents from the prior dividend of 11 cents a quarter, and up 8 cents annually from the 44-cent level.

Microsoft’s board has also authorized up to $6 billion in debt financing including a new $2 billion participation in the commercial paper market.

“The company’s strong credit quality coupled with investors’ current appetite for high quality paper provides a unique opportunity for the company to establish its first-ever commercial paper program and enhance its capital structure,” Microsoft treasurer George Zinn said in a press release.

The company says it may use the financings to help fund operations and buy back stock.

Shares of Microsoft rose 5% and HP was up 2% in premarket trading Monday.

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