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Apple this morning confirmed plans to start issuing a dividend for the first time in 17 years — part of a plan to pay out $45 billion over three years as a means of returning value to shareholders and reducing its cash balance, now approaching $100 billion.

A quarterly dividend of $2.65/share will start sometime in the quarter that begins in July.

In a news release announcing the plan, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company would still have enough cash to serve its strategy after making the payouts.

“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,” he said. “Even with these investments, we can maintain a war chest for strategic opportunities and have plenty of cash to run our business. So we are going to initiate a dividend and share repurchase program.”

It’s a big move that underscores the financial success of Apple products including the iPad and the iPhone in recent years. Apple share are up this morning on the news.

“It will make us one of the largest dividend payers on the United States,” said Peter Oppenheimer, Apple’s chief financial officer, in a conference call with investors and analysts this morning.

As part of the $45 billion payout, Apple also says it will buy back $10 billion of its own stock starting in its next fiscal year, beginning in September.

Microsoft made a somewhat similar move back in 2004, with a one-time special dividend of $3, plus buybacks and an increase in the regular dividend as part of a move to return some $75 billion to shareholders over four years.

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