Qualcomm Inc., highly profitable and flush with cash at a time many other wireless technology companies continue to wilt, announced yesterday that it would pay its first-ever dividend to shareholders.
The San Diego-based company hopes that by issuing a dividend it will be able to differentiate itself from other companies that rose and fell during the technology bubble of the late 1990s, Chief Financial Officer William E. Keitel said in an interview.
"It puts the company in a different light," Keitel said of the dividend. "We have kind of crossed over to a new stage in our company life."
Qualcomm's strength stems largely from its control of patents underlying the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology, which has emerged as the most popular method for transmitting data over wireless networks. CDMA-equipped devices are particularly popular in Asia, where consumers have embraced using wireless phones to access the Internet and transmit photos.
Roughly 143 million wireless subscribers around the world use CDMA devices, and Keitel expects that number to grow as more consumers begin using their phones to play games and send text messages. Although the wireless market is almost saturated, Qualcomm is expected to greatly increase its market share in coming years from its current 13 percent of mobile phone subscribers, Keitel said. Qualcomm's technology competes with several other digital standards around the world, including Global System for Mobile Communications, which is controlled by a consortium of European companies, and iDEN, which is used by Nextel Communications Inc.
Qualcomm announced last month that its fiscal first-quarter profit rose 30 percent from the year-earlier period, to $241.3 million (30 cents per share). Revenue was $1.1 billion, up 57 percent. The company also revised its guidance to analysts, saying it would probably earn $1.34 to $1.39 per share this calendar year, up from its previous forecast of $1.15 to $1.20.
In addition to the dividend, which will cost the company $160 million this calendar year, Qualcomm said it will spend $1 billion in the next two years to buy back its stock. The company has about $3.7 billion in cash.
Qualcomm is following the lead of Microsoft Corp., which announced last month that it would distribute $856 million this year to its shareholders through dividends.
Shares of Qualcomm rose 3 cents to close at $37.65.
Technology companies have traditionally been reluctant to pay dividends, preferring to set aside their cash for research and development or acquisitions. But since President Bush announced a proposal late last year to exempt dividends from federal tax, cash-rich technology companies have been taking a closer look at distributing some of their funds. Oracle Corp., which develops software to manage vast amounts of information, and Yahoo Inc., the Internet directory company, have both said that they are weighing the impact of paying dividends.
Keitel said yesterday that Bush's proposal was not a key factor in the decision to issue a dividend. Instead, the company decided that given its expectations of continued growth, it was time to begin returning some of its cash to shareholders.