Since Cisco started its share repurchase program in 2001, the company's board has approved up to $13 billion to be used in stock buybacks. Here's a quick recap of the activity so far:
- September 2001: Cisco board approved the repurchase of up to $3 billion of Cisco common stock.
- August 2002: Cisco's board extended the buyback program by an additional $5 billion.
- March 2003: Cisco's board again increased the buyback program by another $5 billion, with no termination date.
- September 2003: Cisco board ups the ante a third time; it approves another $7 billion in additional repurchases of the company's common stock with no termination date.
There are some who contend that Cisco's stock buybacks aren't enough to offset dilution of stock through the issuance of employee options. The total number of Cisco shares outstanding has dropped in the past three years, but it is still 54 percent higher than it was 10 years ago, according to Morningstar.com.
Some other tech companies have taken a different approach to distributing cash and managing employee options. For example, Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) has decided to halt the issuance of employee stock options; it will expense any options it's already given out and is paying a dividend. Cisco keeps its earnings well above what they would be otherwise by not expensing options (see Cisco's Chambers Gets More Options).
What, then, is Cisco going to do with its cash? "Our ongoing plans to use our cash include among other things: continued repurchase of shares, strategic minority investments to gain access to new technologies, and potential acquisitions," a Cisco spokesperson says.
Cisco certainly picked an interesting day to announce a stock buyback. Today, as the Nasdaq Composite Index fell more than 3 percent, Cisco shares fell $0.83 (3.92%) to $20.32.
— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading