Apple could announce a 'significant' dividend next year, according to investment firm Gamco Investors.

The company's Howard Ward told Bloomberg Television's Street Smart programme that it was probable that the dividend would be issued in the first six months of 2012.

“We’re going to see a dividend announced for Apple at some point in the first half of 2012. That could easily be a 3 percent dividend-yielding stock or even higher,” he said.

Apple's stock has increased more than fifty-fold since the end of 2002 and the company currently has some $81.6 billion in cash and investments. CEO Tim Cook told analysts back in October that he wasn't "religious about holding cash or not holding it".

Apple declined to comment on the matter.