Icahn presses Tim Cook for more Apple buybacks, says stock could double to $203 a share

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This combination made with file photos shows activist investor Carl Icahn, left, and Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook. In a letter dated Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014, Icahn asked Cook to give the Apple’s board a plan to meaningfully increase share repurchases. In return, the billionaire investor promises not to offer up any of his roughly 53 million Apple Inc. shares in the repurchase. (AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams, Tony Avelar)


Carl Icahn just can't help himself.

The billionaire activist investor lobbied Apple earlier this year to buy back billions worth of its shares to boost value to shareholders. In April Apple boosted its buyback plans by $30 billion and even split its stock for the first time in nine years. Satisfied? Never. Icahn's taking another swing at getting Apple to buy back more stock, saying the shares could double to more than $200 apiece.

In a letter Thursday to Tim Cook, the iPhone maker's CEO, Icahn called on him to throw his weight behind more share repurchases. In return, he promises that he wouldn't sell back any of his roughly 53 million Apple Inc. shares. That represents about 1 percent of Apple's total 6 billion shares outstanding.

Icahn said in the lengthy letter that he's not criticizing Cook, whom he called the "ideal CEO for Apple." But the investor pushed his belief that the Cupertino, California company's shares are incredibly cheap.

"You have said that the company likes to be 'opportunistic' when repurchasing shares and we appreciate that," Icahn wrote. "With this letter we simply hope to express to you that now is a very opportunistic time to do so."

Apple shares closed at $100.80 on Wednesday — half of what Icahn thinks is "appropriate," given his bullish growth forecasts and the company's $133 billion cash stockpile. Speaking on CNBC on Thursday, the financier suggested Apple conduct "a massive tender offer" of as much as $100 billion, although he added, "maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit."

"We always appreciate hearing from our shareholders," Apple responded in a statement. "Since 2013 we've been aggressively executing the largest capital return program in corporate history. As we've said before, we will review the program annually and take into account the input from all of our shareholders."

Icahn said he had a "very friendly" conversation with Cook before making the letter public. He said Cook agreed that Apple's stock is undervalued but didn't indicate if he would support a buyback.

Icahn's price target is far higher than most Wall Street analysts believe the stock is worth. JMP Securities analyst Alex Gauna has a "Buy" rating on the stock with a target of $135. He's "positive on Apple," but some of Icahn's assumptions "strike us as premature."

Icahn's letter "is a nice little bit of flamboyant grandstanding in my view, but to base a valuation on the kind of growth trajectory that Icahn has in his letter is really not backed up by what we know of the product pipeline today," Gauna said in an interview with The Associated Press. Gauna noted that the bulk of Apple's cash is held overseas to avoid higher U.S. taxes on foreign earnings; he also suggested Apple might need to use some cash for future acquisitions.

Apple shares were trading at about $645 before April's 7-for-1 split, which brought them to $92 each. The split itself didn't change Apple's market value, but often can lift the stock price since it makes shares more affordable to a larger pool of potential investors.

Apple shares were up 9 cents at $100.89 in afternoon trading as the broader market took a huge tumble. The stock is up about 20 percent since May 1.

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