Apple pressed on US$150 bil. buyback

By Michael Liedtke, AP

SAN FRANCISCO–Activist investor Carl Icahn is pressuring Apple to spend US$150 billion buying back its own stock, a target that would more than double the amount that the company’s board authorized in a previous attempt to placate frustrated shareholders.

Icahn took to the Internet and the TV airwaves on Tuesday to make it clear that he believes Apple Inc. isn’t doing nearly enough to boost its stock price, which has fallen by 30 percent from its peak in September 2012. The slump has turned Apple’s stock into a bargain, Icahn said on the financial news channel CNBC, making it a “no-brainer” for the maker of the iPhone and iPad to pour more money into its shares.

The Apple board pledged in April to spend US$60 billion buying back its stock through the end of 2015. About US$18 billion of that commitment had been exhausted through June.

Icahn went public with his demands after making his case with Apple CEO Tim Cook in a Monday dinner hosted at his New York apartment. The face-to-face conversation came seven weeks after Icahn, a billionaire who has built his fortune by investing in out-of-favor companies, disclosed that he had bought a significant stake in Apple and signaled he would be campaigning for changes.

Monday’s three-hour meeting was “cordial,” according to the often-confrontational Icahn, although he said the mood got “testy” when Apple’s chief financial officer, Peter Oppenheimer, expressed misgivings about asking the board to reconsider how much the Cupertino, California, company should be spending on its own stock.

“I said, ‘So what? The board is not God,’” Icahn said during an interview on the financial news channel CNBC. “The board should be listening to what their shareholders want.”

Icahn said Apple agreed to get back in touch with him in three weeks.

Apple spokesman Steve Dowling declined to comment.

“I feel very strongly about this,” Icahn told CNBC. “I can’t promise you the stock will go up and I can’t promise you they are going to do the buyback, but I can promise you that I am not going away until they hear a lot more from me concerning this.”

Icahn, 77, didn’t say what he will do if Apple rejects his ideas. In past investments, Icahn has spearheaded shareholder rebellions aimed at ousting corporate boards who spurn him. Icahn told CNBC that he believes Apple’s board is smart and praised Cook for the job he has done since he succeeded company co-founder Steve Jobs as CEO two years ago.

Icahn believes the company’s stock will eventually soar again and cited consumer loyalty to Apple’s brand. He considers Apple’s shares currently as cheap as Netflix Inc.’s stock when he acquired a nearly 10-percent stake in the Internet video subscription last year for an average price of about US$58 per share. Netflix’s stock is now trading above US$320, reaping Icahn a gain of about US$1.5 billion.