Apple has been automatically paying its shareholders a dividend about a month and a half after the end of each fiscal quarter. At the current stock price of $514, the dividend yield is 2.37 percent.
The next dividend payout date falls on Thursday February 13th for the December quarter, but the last opportunity for shareholders to qualify for the dividend ends today; shares changing hands after the ex-dividend date but before the dividend record date do not transfer dividend rights.
The reason for the delay, as noted by Philip Elmer-Dewitt last spring, is an accounting principle know as the "ex-dividend" or reinvestment date, which determines the party owed the dividend when shares change ownership immediately before the dividend is paid. When a share is sold, the transaction does not "settle" for three days.
The stock market (in Apple's case, NASDAQ) automatically adjusts the value of the company's stock by the value of the dividend, as the dividend reduces the value of the company because it is paid from the company's cash holdings.
This is offset by the fact that shareholders are getting the dividend, and can expect an ongoing dividend in the future in addition to the ongoing appreciation of the stock. This is further enhanced by the company's ongoing buyback program, which increases the scarcity (and therefore value) of Apple's stock by taking shares off the market.
Over the past year, Apple has been paying out around $2.5 billion in dividends every quarter, a figure that increased 15 percent to $2.8 billion last year when Apple increased dividend payments to the holders of its 892.55 million outstanding shares.
$143 million less in dividend payments after buying back shares
Beginning three quarters ago, the company started paying its previously announced "significant increase" in dividends as part of an expanded capital return program.
Apple raised its quarterly dividend from $2.65 per share to $3.05 and added another $50 billion to its stock buyback program.
Apple's stock buyback spent $16 billion over the June quarter buying 36 million shares off the market at an average price of $444.44, then bought up another 10.4 million shares with a $5 billion repurchase in the September quarter at an average price of around $480.
Apple's 2013 stock buybacks were essentially a massive acquisition of itself, larger than than even Google's $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility.