|Apple's announcement on its cash reserves comes weeks after the launch of the iPad3 tablet computer [Reuters]
Apple has announced it plans to pay a quarterly dividend of $2.65 per share and authorised a $10bn stock buyback programme to be executed over three years.
The pioneering technology giant said it planned to initiate the quarterly dividend in the fourth quarter of the 2012 fiscal year, which begins on July 1, and to begin the stock repurchase programme in the 2013 fiscal year, which starts on September 30.
Wall Street had speculated that Apple was planning to return cash to shareholders, taking a cue from comments made by Tim Cook, the company's chief executive, about "active discussions" at the top levels about the matter.
Cook recently said he had been "thinking very deeply" about investors' demands that Apple return some of the cash to shareholders via a dividend, pushing Apple shares up more than 35 per cent since the beginning of the year.
Apple shares rose 2.4 per cent in trading in New York on Monday, ending the session at $598.84 a share.
The move appears to mark a change from corporate policy under Steve Jobs, Apple's co-founder and former chief executive who died last year, when dividends were often mentioned but not acted upon.
Still, Cook said on Monday that the company's priority remained "making great products", echoing his predecessor's mantra.
"Innovation is the most important objective at Apple and we will not lose sight of that," Cook said.
Apple has experienced a phenomenal turnaround in fortunes since the 1990s, when it struggled to stay afloat before its co-founder the late Steve Jobs returned to take the helm.
The company, known as Apple Computer Inc when it was founded in 1976, was on a steep decline before Jobs returned in 1997 to re-energise the company with innovative products such as the iPod music player, the iPhone and the iPad tablet computer.
With a market value of about $546bn, the company last year eclipsed oil giant Exxon as the world's most valuable company based on its stock value.
Had it kept amassing cash and low-yielding securities, Apple could eventually have opened itself to legal challenge from shareholders, who could have argued that it was misusing their money.