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Tech firms increasing dividends

Technology companies are paying out dividends at the fastest pace in more than a decade, boosting cash returns to appease investors dismayed by slowing growth.

Led by Apple and Cisco Systems, technology companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index distributed $10.8 billion in dividends in the most recent quarter, up from $5.1 billion in the same period in 2010.

They paid a record $11.9 billion in dividends in the previous quarter, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Their average dividend yield, a metric for measuring payments in the past 12 months as a percentage of market value, stands at 1.21 percent for technology companies, the first time it has exceeded 1 percent in at least 15 years, the data show.

Apple, Cisco, Dell and their peers have a total of $590 billion of cash on hand, up from $508.5 billion a year ago and $436.5 billion two years ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Dividend payouts are likely to keep rising as once cash-strapped startups become larger, slower-growth companies – a shift that may raise expectations that holdouts such as Google will follow suit, said Jennifer Koski, a finance professor at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“These companies are now grown-ups,” Koski said. “They are more developed in their life cycle, they are profitable and they don’t need as much in terms of capital.”

The cash reserve numbers are likely to be even larger when technology companies start reporting quarterly earnings, with Intel, Microsoft and Google announcing results next week. Apple’s report will follow on July 23.

The average per-company payout for hardware and software makers has reached $154.9 million, compared with $151.1 million for all companies in the S&P 500, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s a shift from years past, when technology firms traditionally avoided dividends out of concern that they signaled a slowdown in innovation and growth, said Barry James, president of James Investment Research Inc. The firm oversees about $3.5 billion, including shares of Microsoft, which initiated a dividend in 2003.

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