Microsoft is a tech bellwether that had its stock market debut in 1986 for $21 per share. Trading under the symbol MSFT on the Nasdaq, it's a stock whose price rose enough between 1987 and 2003 to warrant nine separate splits. It also showed the power of long-term returns. Investors who acquired 100 shares of Microsoft at the IPO price and held through the stock's 1999 high had returns beyond $1 million. Nonetheless, it hasn't always been smooth sailing for Microsoft's stock.
Highs and Lows
Microsoft's stock saw its best days when co-founder Bill Gates was at the helm of the company. Between 1987 and 2012, for instance, the stock boasted returns of more than 5,000 percent, but a 2012 "Fortune" article claimed the lion's share came under Gates' leadership, which ended in 2000. With Steve Ballmer as chief executive, Microsoft's stock lost half of its value by 2013. The stock recouped much of those losses in a matter of months after Ballmer's retirement that year.
When Microsoft's stock price languished, the company found other ways to return value to shareholders. It paid uninterrupted cash dividends between 2003 and 2014 and either maintained or increased the distribution amount during that period. It also authorized billions in stock buybacks, including a $40 billion share-repurchase program in 2013 amid investor requests. The number of shares Microsoft repurchased between 2011 and 2013 fell from 447 million to 158 million.