Long-time investors in Costco Wholesale (NASDAQ: COST) have reaped huge rewards from the big-box warehouse retailer's growth, including solid dividends and strong share-price appreciation. Yet by at least one measure of perceived success in the stock market, Costco has lagged behind other companies: splitting its stock. Costco's history of stock splits goes back to the early 1990s, but it hasn't done a stock split since 2000. Could now finally be the time Costco considers a split?
Let's take a look at Costco's history of stock splits and whether a future move could be in the works.
Costco stock splits
Data source: Costco investor relations.
As you can see, Costco has done stock splits in the past, even though it hasn't done so lately. The company has been remarkably consistent in its total return to shareholders, producing average annual gains of more than 15% since the mid-1990s.
What will make Costco split its shares?
Costco hasn't followed a definitive stock split strategy during its history. During the early 1990s, Costco was one of the best-performing stocks in the market, and after waiting a fairly long time after its 1985 IPO to do its first split, the company proceeded to make its second move in relatively short order thereafter. Share prices weren't inordinately high compared to other stocks in the market, but Costco seemed to want to keep the stock in a familiar range.
By late 1999, more familiar trends started to influence Costco's decision-making process. Years of gains had sent the stock close to the $100 per share level, and like several other companies, Costco seemed to see that as a signal to execute its split. Soon after that, the tech bust took a toll on the warehouse retailer, whose headquarters is in the Seattle area, and its share price languished for a long time.
The downward influence of dividends
Another influence on Costco's share price came from dividends. In 2004, the retailer started making a quarterly payout, and since then, Costco has paid more than $11 per share in regular quarterly dividends. In addition to that, Costco has made two special dividend payments: one of $7 per share in 2012 and another for $5 per share in 2015. Those dividends have arguably restrained what would have been further share-price advances for Costco.
However, one of the biggest reasons Costco hasn't felt the need to split its shares is that the general sentiment toward splits in the stock market has cooled considerably. In the past, triple-digit share prices were rare, and many companies worked hard to avoid them. Now, however, many stocks trade at levels similar to Costco's current level in the $150s, and share price by itself is no longer an impetus for companies to implement stock splits.
Will Costco split again?
Costco's returns would certainly justify a stock split whenever corporate management feels so inclined. However, investors aren't putting pressure on Costco to reduce the per-share price of its stock, and the company hasn't given any indication of its willingness or desire to consider a split in the near future. In all likelihood, it would take an extraordinary event such as a merger to make Costco look closely at doing a stock split. Until then, investors should simply be content with the impressive returns they've earned from watching the stock's share price rise steadily over time.
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Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Costco Wholesale. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.