BREAKINGVIEWS-Apple owners don’t need consumer-like innovation

Fri Feb 22, 2013 9:31am IST

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(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

By Jeffrey Goldfarb

NEW YORK, Feb 22 (Reuters Breakingviews) - David Einhorn has done his best to channel Steve Jobs. A one-hour pitch on Thursday by the U.S. hedge fund manager enlisted the late Apple (AAPL.O) founder's own value propositions and presentation tactics to try and sell the idea of a new class of preferred stock for the gadget maker. It's just not obvious Apple owners will embrace the same kind of innovation consumers do.

The iPrefs, as the Greenlight Capital founder now brands them, aren't exactly cutting edge any more despite Einhorn saying it's "the product Apple doesn't yet know it needs." He rolled out a similar proposal last May, calling it Go-Ups – Greenlight Opportunistic Use of Preferreds. It didn't catch fire the way the iPhone did. That makes Einhorn's latest iteration more like an updated model with fresh marketing.

The concept is now a little more accessible, but still lacks the ease of a touch-screen. Einhorn reckons the best way to unlock the value of Apple's $137 billion of cash is for the company to issue preferred stock – one share for each common share to start – with a quarterly dividend yielding about 4 percent in perpetuity.

The idea isn't terrible. It just lacks the sort of simplicity that is Apple's hallmark, and which it could just as easily bring to bear in finance as it does in technology. Einhorn acknowledges that paying out a special one-time dividend or implementing a stock buyback would considerably enhance the share price too. He just thinks his creative engineering would help more.

What Einhorn doesn't seem to do is attach any of the uncertainty to his own conceit that he does to the other alternatives. For example, he argues that dividend yields don’t necessarily support stock prices – logic that also could apply to his new class of Apple shares.

The company says it will consider Einhorn's invention, as it should. It doesn't, however, make a lot of sense for him to link the stock plan to a fight to unbundle a package of governance proposals. Chief Executive Tim Cook says stockholders would still have to vote on such an idea. In reality, though, investors, who are among the most intractable consumers around, just might prefer Apple to save the whizzy engineering for its products.

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CONTEXT NEWS

- Hedge fund manager David Einhorn made a one-hour conference call presentation on Feb. 21 in an effort to persuade Apple to create a new class of preference shares he says would unlock the value of the company's $137 billion of cash.

- Einhorn, founder of Greenlight Capital, said Apple should use $47 billion in cash to issue preferred stock he branded iPrefs with a quarterly dividend of 50 cents in perpetuity. The stock would be in high demand, he said, because "savers across the country" are in desperate need of yield.

- Greenlight owns 1.3 million shares of Apple.

- Link to Einhorn presentation: here

- Reuters story: Einhorn says Apple "iPref" stock would unlock value [ID:nL1N0BLBTM]

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- For previous columns by the author, Reuters customers can click on [GOLDFARB/]

(Editing by John Foley and Katrina Hamlin)

((jeffrey.goldfarb@thomsonreuters.com))

((Reuters messaging: jeffrey.goldfarb.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net)) Keywords: BREAKINGVIEWS APPLE EINHORN

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