It must have been really hard to decide. Even these days, $100 billion buys quite a lot: Greece, for example, or a manned expedition to Mars (although perhaps not back). Apple, currently the world’s most successful company by a country mile, has finally decided to give something back – not to society, but to its shareholders. It’s going to pay a quarterly dividend of $2.65 a share, although with the price over $500 this hardly turns it into an income stock .

Apple also plans to spend a spare $10 billion buying some of the stock back. Oh no. This financial prestigidation is popular among the advisers, but it’s a bad idea. Essentially, it amounts to paying some shareholders to go away at the expense of those who remain. It’s not presented like that, of course. It’s usually disguised as “making the balance sheet more efficient” or some such mumbo-jumbo. That the cosmetic effect on earnings per share can help executives hit those impenetrable bonus targets is, of course, quite irrelevant. But experience shows that the benign impact of a price-insensitive buyer doesn’t last long.

There are times when a company’s stock can look genuinely cheap to the directors, and when they could argue that buying in shares is really worth while. At times like those, the board is usually in such a blue funk about the world coming to an end that companies are more likely to suspend programmes than start them.

Apple’s won’t start until September. The directors can have little idea of where the stock price will be then, or whether it’s cheap or dear. There may be a perfectly sensible case for returning capital to all shareholders (if there’s a cash pile-up) but the best way to reward them is by a substantial, sustainable dividend. That requires confidence in the business beyond the next couple of years. Perhaps Apple’s board doesn’t have it.