AAPL: Shareholders' meeting fails to address iPrefs, Tim Cook talks sagging stock price
Apple Inc CEO Tim Cook acknowledged widespread disappointment in the company's sagging share price but shared few details about its secretive product pipeline or a raging debate about how to best reward shareholders.
The world's most valuable technology company headed into its annual shareholders' meeting at its headquarters on Wednesday on shakier ground than it has been accustomed to in years, since the iPhone and iPad helped vault the company to premier investment status.
A declining share price has lent weight to Wall Street's demand that it share more of its $137 billion in cash and securities pile - equivalent to Hungary's Gross Domestic Product, and growing - a debate now spearheaded by outspoken hedge fund manager David Einhorn.
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Einhorn was not spotted at the meeting on Wednesday. Cook repeated that the company's board remained in "very very active" discussions about options for cash sharing, and said he shared investors' dissatisfaction over the stock price.
"I don't like it either. The board doesn't like it. The management team doesn't like it," Cook told investors at the company's headquarters on 1 Infinite Loop.
But by focusing on the long term, revenue and profit will follow, he said.
Cook added that the company was working on new product categories, but, as usual, would not elaborate.
Speculation is rife on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley that the iPhone maker is working on a project to revolutionize the television and TV content, or a smart "iWatch." Apple's stock was down 1 percent to $444 in afternoon trade.
It is now down more than 35 percent from its $702.10 September peak.
Despite a slipping share price, dissatisfaction on the Street over its cash allocation and uncertainty over its product pipeline, shareholders re-elected the entire board on Wednesday, and Cook won more than 99 percent of the vote in preliminary results.
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Apple's annual shareholder meetings have been celebrations in recent years. Since the company came out with its first iPhone in 2007, the company has multiplied in market value until it peaked in September.
Then Samsung Electronics and Amazon.com began seriously eroding its market share in 2012, powered by arch-rival Google Inc's Android software. On March 14, Samsung will launch the Galaxy SIV smartphone, the latest iteration of a flagship smartphone that helped it dethrone Apple from the top of the industry.
Institutional investors want the company to share a greater chunk of its cash and securities pile, a demand growing increasingly strident with the company's stock wallowing at levels untested since the start of 2012.
Einhorn himself is advocating "iPrefs," preferred stock that will carry a perpetual 4 percent dividend to boost returns while not hampering cash flow.
On Friday, Einhorn won an important legal victory that strengthened his hand. His Greenlight Capital secured an injunction that invalidated shareholder voting on a proposal to scrap Apple's power to issue preferred stock at its discretion.
Apple says this will enhance governance. But the hedge fund manager argued it could complicate efforts to issue preferred securities in the future.
Cook said again on Wednesday that Einhorn's lawsuit - regardless of its efficacy - was a "silly sideshow." The underlying principle of cash distribution was something he and the board took seriously, he added.
The California Public Employees Retirement System, owner of 2.7 million Apple shares, had supported the so-called Proposal 2. Senior Portfolio Manager Anne Simpson said it was unfortunate the proposal could not be put forward for a vote.
"We know there is hot debate going on with cash," Simpson told the assembled shareholders at 1 Infinite Loop. "We are willing and happy to wait."