Social media giant Facebook Inc. (FB)—along with its FANG counterparts Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN), Netflix Inc. (NFLX) and Alphabet Inc.'s (GOOG) Google—has long shied away from paying a cash dividend, favoring reinvesting their hordes of cash to rewarding investors with a quarterly or annual dividend payout.
But that could change with Facebook potentially becoming the first of the FANG stocks to break that mold and pay out a cash dividend. The reason, according to Barron’s: The social media giant could be nearing the peak of its growth. “With some two billion monthly users, Facebook is pushing up against the limits of growth. The social-networking giant already dominates digital advertising, along with Google. If growth does begin to taper, you can expect investors to begin calling for new strategies—including dividends and stock buybacks,” wrote Barron’s in a recent report. (See also: The Bear Case for Facebook.)
While the classic FANG stocks don’t pay cash dividends, some of the technology markets largest players do, including Apple Inc. (AAPL), Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), Intel Corp. (INTC), Oracle Corp. (ORCL) and Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO). Apple, for its part, even raised its dividend by 10.5% in May while Microsoft has been raising its dividend on a consistent basis for some time. In September it hiked the dividend by 7.7%. (See also: 7 Dividend Stocks Likely to Pay Off in 2018.)
Following MSFT's Example?
Daniel Ives, GBH Insights’ head of technology research, told Barron’s that if Facebook launched a dividend program of around $2 a share and then raised it to $3, it wouldn’t negatively impact the stock or the social media’s giant’s earnings. A dividend of that nature, noted Ives, would give investors a yield of around 1.5%. Barron’s noted that Facebook could start paying a dividend as early as 2019 and is more of a candidate than the other FANG stocks because it, unlike Amazon and Netflix, has enough earnings to pay out a dividend. Google has already said it wasn’t gearing up to offer a dividend anytime soon. It doesn’t hurt that Facebook has around $38 billion in cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments that would make it easy to pay out a dividend and keep shareholders happy.
While the company’s stock ended the year up more than 50%, there is no guarantee it will always lead in online advertising in the U.S. It also has expenses that are rising, which could pressure its results and thus the stock’s return. All of that could be more palatable to investors if a dividend was involved. Barron’s noted that if growth slows down and Facebook begins offering a dividend, it would be similar to Microsoft back in 2003 when it declared its first dividend when it held $43 billion in cash.