Cook’s ‘active’ cash talks fail to assuage Apple investors

Bloomberg NewsFebruary 27, 2013 

Apple iPhone

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during an Apple event in San Francisco, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012.

JEFF CHIU — AP

  • Other shareholder desires: • more bathrooms in its retail stores • create an “iBike computer” • remove Al Gore from board because he sold his Current TV network to Al Jazeera, the cable channel funded in part by oil-rich Qatar

— and Peter Burrows

Apple CEO Tim Cook, saying he’s in “very, very active” talks about what to do with the company’s growing cash pile, did little to assuage investors seeking more clarity on his plans.

Apple shares slipped as Cook ended the company’s annual shareholder meeting without giving additional insight on what he’ll do with $137.1 billion in cash and investments. Shareholders re-elected the board, approved Ernst & Young as the company’s accountant and passed a non-binding measure on executive pay.

Cook is under growing pressure to use higher dividends, stock buybacks or a new class of preferred shares to compensate investors after Apple shares tumbled by more than a third from a September peak. The calls grew louder amid signs of slowing sales and profit growth and increasingly acute competition from Samsung Electronics and Google.

“The stock isn’t going to do much until the investment community gets more granularity or clarity about how they are thinking about returning capital to shareholders,” Ted Bridges, a shareholder from Omaha, Neb., who attended the meeting, said in an interview. He runs Bridges Investment Counsel.

Cook, dressed in dark button-up shirt and seated on a stool in the company’s auditorium, said he and other executives are “focused on the long term” and aren’t happy with the falling stock price.

After taking over as CEO in 2011 from co-founder Steve Jobs, Cook has proved more sensitive to shareholders’ concerns than his predecessor. While Jobs long dismissed investors’ cash demands, Cook reinstated the company’s quarterly dividend and unveiled a $10 billion stock buyback program last year.

Investors defeated another measure, offered by a shareholder, that would have required executives to hold more company stock, to ensure that their interests are better aligned with those of investors. Apple had said its existing structure, which includes salary, bonus and shares that vest over time, is enough to keep management focused on performance over the long haul.

“Winning for us isn’t about making the most,” Cook said. “We want to make the best. That’s why we’re here.”

A proposal that would have required Apple to get shareholder approval before issuing preferred shares was scrapped before the meeting.

Cook has defended Apple’s policies, saying that it’s handling cash responsibly.

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