Carl Icahn has said recently that if Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) doesn’t take his advice for a $150 billion share buyback, he would be open to a proxy battle. The notorious activist investor often gets pretty nasty with the companies he enters into proxy battles with, but he seems to be setting a different tone with Apple. It’s as if he’s saying, “Things will be different this time.”

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Icahn files precatory proposal with Apple

Time magazine conducted a series of exclusive interviews with Carl Icahn as he has gone through this process of pressuring Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) to do a bigger share buyback. He continued to emphasize that he really likes Apple CEO Tim Cook and thinks he is doing a good job. However, he still disagrees with the company’s capital return strategy.

As a result, he filed a precatory proposal with Apple on Nov. 26, just three days ahead of the deadline to file measures which shareholders would vote on at the next meeting. It’s particularly interesting that he chose to file a precatory proposal because this diverges from his usual tactics. It’s as if Apple’s sheer size and standing on Wall Street requires such a divergence. A precatory proposal is a non-binding proposal which is merely aimed at collecting shareholders’ opinions on a topic. Even if it passes, Apple is not obligated to go along with it.

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Icahn wants a smaller share buyback from Apple

For months now, Carl Icahn has been pushing Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) to buy back $150 billion of its shares as soon as possible. Since he started that push, he has added billions of dollars to Apple’s market capitalization as he pumped up the stock’s price—merely by publicizing his involvement in Apple and his idea.

Now that Apple’s share price has increased, Icahn has dialed back his demands a bit. He said that he was no longer pushing for the $150 billion buyback, and CNBC reported that the precatory proposal he filed was for just a $50 billion share buyback. That smaller amount might be closer to what Apple might do, although if shares keep rising as they have been, the company could become less and less likely to do it. After all, it makes more sense to buy back shares of your own company when the stock price is down. So by pumping up Apple’s share price, Icahn is, in a way, making it less attractive for Apple to buy back its own shares. Shares of Apple are starting to approach $600 again, which would be a new key milestone for the company’s stock price.

Should Apple buy back shares?

However, investors could see an increased share buyback as a good-faith gesture to return capital to them, which would in turn make Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) more attractive to them. Of course the debate about whether a share buyback or an increased dividend would be the better option will undoubtedly continue. But perhaps since Carl Icahn has slashed $100 billion off of his push, he stands a better chance at getting his way.