Linear Technology – a description of the company, finances, and payout policy
Linear Technology was based out of Silicon Valley and founded in 1981. The company specialized in design, manufacture and marketing of analog integrated circuits. Linear enjoyed a diversified customer base, with 33% of its business coming from the communications sector, 27% from computers, 6% from automotive, and 34% from various other applications. With their focus on the analog segment of the IC sector, which was characterized by custom designed products, it was imperative that Linear hires and retains talented people who were accustomed to out-of-the-box thinking and who could readily develop innovative techniques and products that would keep them competitive.
Going IPO in 1986, Linear operated with a modest CAPEX. Additionally they enjoyed low obsolescence of equipment and techniques. This combined with their low R&D expenses led to margins that exceeded that of competing digital IC products. This is supported by Linear’s 7th seat positioning on the Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index (SOX).
Linear’s net income was at its highest in 2001, when global technology spending was at its highest, and its lowest sales the following year. They still maintained positive cash flows and strong margins; this was accomplished through various mechanisms such as cost cutting aided by their variable cost structure. As of 2003 Q3, Linear was emerging out of the recession with strong financials. However, top line sales and net income remained lower than their high point in 2001. Due to political unrest throughout the World, the future of the tech industry remained unclear. Year over year growth in 2003 when compared to 2002 was good, but the company didn’t see a clear path to reaching 2001 levels. At the same time, they didn’t want to sacrifice margins in new markets like Asia.
By 1992 Linear’s management was comfortable in their ability to sustain future cash flows, having been cash flow positive since IPO, and began issuing dividends of $.00625 per share (payout ratio: 15%). In 2002 LLTC continued issuing dividends, despite the higher payout ratio (27.24%), as they didn’t want to lose favor with investors. It is likely that Linear viewed dividends as a way to stay in the portfolio of mutual funds and EU investors who strongly favored dividend-paying stocks.
Simultaneously, Linear also began to buy back shares when interest rates were low or/and when market valuation of Linear stock was low. They were skeptical about paying out all or more of their cash in dividends as this could signal lack of growth potential. It is notable that many institutional investors held Linear stock, largest among which was Janus Capital. Linear wanted to be sure to send positive signals to their investors. With a large cash balance ($1.5 billion) and no debt, Linear was at a crossroads - they needed to know what to do with their cash. Their options were: 1) Invest in new projects, 2) Payout via dividends and/or repurchases, and 3) Save it for future investments in innovation and diversification. In this p per, we will analyze three different approaches in deciding
Linear’s payout for Q3.
Approach – 1 Cent Dividend Increase
The analysis below assumes the decision to repurchase 165.7 million in stock will not be adjusted. The decision to be made is to either raise our dividend by one cent per share, or leave the third quarter dividend of .05 per share intact.
Historically Linear has not increased dividends in Q3, so a conservative approach for the board would be to approve the continuation of the dividend policy from Q2. Continuing the status quo of .05 per share, the payout ratio would adjust to 27.48 percent of Net Income. Increasing dividend by one cent per share would increase the YTD payout ratio to approximately 29.31 percent for the three quarters (Exhibit 1), a modest increase.
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