Apple is due to respond today to a lawsuit by a hedge fund that alleges the company is hoarding cash -- which it should be distributing to shareholders. Apple CEO Tim Cook has called the legal squabble a "silly sideshow," but pressure is mounting on Apple to share its $137 billion cash pile.
You'd think rewarding shareholders would be an easy call. But Brian Colello, an equity analyst with Morningstar, notes that Apple has a reputation for being conservative with its cash.
“I think that goes back to its days struggling in the PC space, 10 or 15 years ago,” he says.
Because Apple’s stock price has declined, Colello says investors want to be rewarded in other ways. David Einhorn, who runs the Greenlight Capital hedge fund, even sued the company. He wants Apple to issue preferred shares -- a kind of stock that pays regular dividends.
"The shareholders, particularly Einhorn, are saying, 'We would like more of that back, because you don't need it and your businesses is going to keep generating cash,'" says Steve Kaplan, who teaches finance at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. “I think Apple’s response is -- we’re starting to give you the cash back.”
Apple has opened its purse to some degree. In the past year, the company has returned $10 billion to shareholders through dividends and stock buybacks. Apple has pledged to give back another $35 billion in the next two years.
When Apple's CEO Tim Cook called the shareholder suit a quote "silly sideshow," he was speaking at a big Technology and Internet conference in New York full of institutional investors, venture capitalists, and the media. With the bloom off of the Apple in recent months, Cook needed to do some fancy talking. The Apple CEO doesn't think his company has lost its "innovation mojo," taken by some as a hint Apple's working on something big, but who knows what.
"Tim Cook, who's known for having a pretty flat affect, was speaking in these lyrical terms about how when he goes to an Apple store and he's depressed, all of the sudden it's like Prozac," says Heidi Moore, the Guardian's U.S. Finance and Economics Editor. "It was pretty funny, but it was also pretty interesting because he has to make a really strong case for his company right now. A lot of the guys in that audience are investors -- they think in terms of money, in terms of profit -- and here he's making an argument about how much people should have a spiritual element of their engagement with Apple."