that as each bank implements a new experiment without immediate consequence, the new policy is deemed safe, if not effective. Other central bankers notice and, acting in the philosophy of ‘Anything you can do, I can do better,’ take turns in one-upmanship. This serially correlated behavior smacks of bubble mentality. But investors are currently complacent about the unintended consequences of central bank money printing, and like most investment cycles and fads, this will persist until it doesn’t. Under the circumstances, it is curious that gold isn’t doing better.
Greenlight Capital Q1 2013 Letter: Apple
AAPL shares fell from $532 to $443 during the quarter. The biggest problems with our AAPL investment are disappointing earnings and a diminished forecast. When Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) announced its year-end result, it made clear that it would earn less in the March quarter than it did a year ago. Forward estimates have been falling for a while. Last July, consensus estimates for fiscal 2014 were $64 per share; estimates now stand at $44. When we thought the company would earn $64 per share, the shares seemed cheap even as they reached $700 in September. Of course, that required Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) to meet that forecast.
Our thesis is that AAPL has a terrific operating platform, engendering a loyal, sticky and growing customer base that will make repeated purchases of an expanding AAPL product offering. Unfortunately, there have been a series of disappointments including slower sales growth, lower margins, and increased competition. There have also been delays in new carrier wins, next generation product introductions, and new product category launches. While all of these have had an understandably negative impact on AAPL’s share price, we take a longer view and believe our thesis is intact.
As shareholders, we watched AAPL accumulate a cash stockpile greater than the market capitalization of all but 17 companies in the S&P 500, and recognized that its high cost of capital and shareholder-unfriendly capital allocation were depressing the stock price. AAPL’s management and Board, either unconcerned or unaware of the detrimental effects of AAPL’s all common equity capital structure, seemed uninterested in finding a solution. As shareholders who believe in AAPL’s core business, we wanted to help AAPL resolve its cash problem in a way that satisfied AAPL, the market, and its shareholders.
Based on years of observation and many discussions, we believed that AAPL would not issue debt under any circumstances, and especially not to return cash to shareholders. With this in mind, coupled with our awareness that AAPL was loath to repatriate (and thereby pay taxes on) its overseas cash, last year we suggested iPrefs to Peter Oppenheimer, AAPL's CFO. We had no better luck than any of the many other investors and analyst who for years have pressed Apple to return excess capital to shareholders. Our concerns fell on deaf ears.
Greenlight Capital Q1 2013 Letter: CalPERS
In February, CalPERS came out in loud support of a proposal aimed at improving AAPL’s corporate governance that inexplicably bundled several measures into a single voting measure. The proposal, which included an unwarranted provision prohibiting AAPL from issuing preferred stock, was in direct violation of SEC rules, and we filed a lawsuit insisting that AAPL allow the shareholders to vote on each measure separately. We believed this would generate a public dialogue around AAPL’s capital allocation strategy.
Greenlight Capital Q1 2013 Letter: Ballmer
When Tim Cook later called the lawsuit a sideshow, it was understandable. Whereas we chose to focus on the very real issue of Apple’s capital structure, others seemed more intent on turning things into a circus. A lawyer known mostly for preserving the autonomy of Boards to act in any manner they wish wrote a piece titled Bite the Apple; Poison the Apple; Paralyze the Company; Wreck the Economy. Given the hysteria implied in the title, one would think we had suggested that AAPL hire Steve Ballmer to run new product development. A retired Fortune 500 CEO said “I’d give Einhorn the back of my hand,” prompting us to wonder why he wouldn’t give us the front of his hand. Perhaps most startling was the reaction from CalPERS, who vigorously defended the proposal.
The essence of corporate governance is form over substance. The belief is that properly made decisions will lead to better decisions, so it was odd to watch self-identified corporate governance advocates support a proxy proposal that violated SEC rules. Incongruously, CalPERS believes good corporate governance is