Apple reacts to lawsuit from activist shareholder seeking larger stock dividend

8 Feb 2013

Apple has reacted to the challenge from activist shareholder David Einhorn who has filed a lawsuit against Apple via the hedge fund Greenlight Capital to demand that the company share out a bigger part of its US$137bn cash pile to investors.

Einhorn, an American hedge fund manager, is the founder and president of the hedge fund Greenlight Capital.

According to Einhorn, Apple has a “cash problem” and he is suing the iPhone and iPad maker to force the company to return more of its US$137bn cash pile to investors.

His Greenlight Capital hedge fund owns 1.3m Apple shares.

Einhorn has sent a letter urging other Apple shareholders to vote against the company’s proposal to eliminate preferred shares.

Apple is planning to eliminate these at its shareholder meeting on 27 February.

“Apple must examine all of its options to unlock the growing value of its balance sheet for all shareholders,” said Einhorn in a statement.

In an interview with CBNC’s Squawk Box programme, he described Apple as having a “cash problem”.

Einhorn went on to describe Apple as having the mentality of being in the Depression era.

“It has sort of a mentality of a depression. In other words, people who have gone through traumas …. and Apple has gone through a couple of traumas in its history, they sometimes feel like they can never have enough cash,” Einhorn told CNBC.

Einhorn had been in talks with Apple’s chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer to get the company to issue dividend-paying preferred shares to reward investors, according to a report by Reuters. He also took the matter to Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Despite the talks with both Cook and Oppenheimer, Einhorn told Reuters that he decided to file the lawsuit anyway because of Apple’s looming annual meeting.

Apple statement

Apple has responded to Einhorn’s and Greenlight Capital’s challenge by issuing a rare public statement on the matter.

According to Apple, its board and management are in active discussions about returning more cash to shareholders and is considering a proposal that it issue preferred stock.

“By early last year, Apple’s cash balance had built to a point beyond what we needed to run our business and maintain flexibility to take advantage of strategic opportunities, so we announced a plan to return US$45bn to shareholders over three years. As of next week we will have executed US$10bn of that plan,” said the company.

“We find ourselves in the fortunate position of continuing to generate large amounts of cash, including US$23bn in cash flow from operations in the last quarter alone.”

Apple went on to describe how it is considering returning more cash to investors.

“Apple’s management team and board of directors have been in active discussions about returning additional cash to shareholders. As part of our review, we will thoroughly evaluate Greenlight Capital’s current proposal to issue some form of preferred stock. We welcome Greenlight’s views and the views of all of our shareholders,” said the company.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic