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Microsoft and the dividend

Tuesday, 17 Sep 2013 | 9:53 AM ET
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Microsoft boosts dividend 22 percent, to $0.28 from $0.23. This is good news: MSFT will now be paying a dividend yield of roughly 3.3 percent, twice what the S&P 500 pays. That's about what some big consumer names pay. It's about what Pfizer pays; about what Kimberly Clark pays; about what Clorox pays.

Perhaps more importantly, they are now joining the small club of big-cap tech stocks that pay dividends north of 3 percent: Intel at 3.8 percent, and Seagate Technology at 3.7 percent.

It also announced a $40 billion buyback. But wait a minute: This replaces a previous $40 billion repurchase program that was set to expire on Sept. 20.

(Read more: Microsoft boosts dividend, sets $40 billion buyback)

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The timing is not accidental. MSFT is having its Financial Analyst Day this Thursday. While there will be plenty of talk about moving customers to the cloud, and about Nokia, the big issue will be whether there is any innovation left in the company and the growth prospects for Windows.

By the way, the percentage of stocks paying dividends in the S&P 500 is at the highest level recorded in the past 15 years: It's 83 percent, according to Factset. The payout ratio, at 31.8 percent, is the highest since mid-2010.

Elsewhere:

1) Inflation: where is it? Today's August Consumer Price Index (CPI), up 0.1 percent on the headline and core, confirms a trend: Both CPI and core CEP have been declining for the past couple years.

(Read more: US prices stay in check, clearing path for Fed)

The Fed has two mandates—fighting inflation and improving employment—and on the inflation front the data continue to be surprisingly low. Despite years of claims inflation would explode, we have not seen it...yet.

This is good news, especially since wage growth has been so poor, but it also allows the Fed to concentrate solely on improving the jobs picture. It gives the Fed a lot of cover to continue its stimulus program, even though I fully expect it will begin a modest taper ($10 billion or so) at the end of its meeting tomorrow.

When will inflation be an issue? We all know that there is plenty of cash sitting around, but it's doing just that—sitting around. So inflation will be an issue when the banks start releasing all that cash they have built up over the years. There is some $1.7 trillion sitting in the Fed in excess reserves, money that is sitting there because either no one wants to borrow it or those who do don't have the credit quality.

2) Airlines: The rest of the world is having problems raising prices, but not airlines. Revenues per available seat mile (RASM) are firm, and with evidence oil prices are peaking and perhaps declining, airline stocks have been rallying in September on hopes of stronger earnings, with the NYSE Arca Airline Index (XAL) near a six-year high.

This morning JPMorgan lifted estimates above consensus for most airlines, and upgraded Delta Air Lines to "overweight" and US Airways to "overweight."

By CNBC's Bob Pisani

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  • A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

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