Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)'s cash hoard of more than $137 Billion is constantly in the limelight, and even more so with an activist investor raising additional concerns about the cash. After the recent sell-off of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) shares amidst worries on margins and innovation, the companies dividend yield in excess of 2.2% looks quite decent.
The company announced a share repurchase plan worth $10 Billion until 2015, but primarily to offset dilution arising from employee stock options. With the stock languishing near 52 week lows, and the intrinsic value of the company slated to be much higher than the current share price, now is the time to ramp up that share repurchase plan for a much bigger buyback.
The company's oversized cash balance is barely earning pennies on the dollar, as funds are primarily invested in government securities and investment grade corporate bonds in the U.S. and abroad. The weighted average interest rate for its cash and securities position for its most recent quarter was a paltry 1.07%.
Understandably, shareholders are questioning the company’s capital allocation strategies. With the Fed's stance pretty clear on keeping interest rates low until at least late 2014, returns from fixed income securities will remain poor unless further action is taken.
"Fooling All of the Shareholders This Time"
David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital raised eyebrows when he sued Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) and while he was simultaneously pushing the company to issue perpetual preferred stock with a 4% yield. Einhorn gained fame with his now famous book, "Fooling Some of the People All of the Time" and for short positions on Green Mountain, Lehman Brothers and Allied Capital. However, who is Einhorn really trying to fool this time?
Einhorn deserves credit for bringing the cash issue more into the limelight and paving the way for more thoughtful discussions. But it is pretty much a self-serving stance, and even more so, because his fund is in the red. However, the issuance of preferred stock is a pretty bad idea.
This shouldn't be a major surprise as Einhorn's fund lost a lot of money betting big on Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) stock and a short position on Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc. (NASDAQ:GMCR). Einhorn's bet on Green Mountain went sour after the specialty coffee-maker of the famous K-Cups rallied heavily after posting good numbers amidst worries of patent expirations, and a decent outlook for 2013.
Downsides of Preferred Stock
The preferred stock idea pitched by Einhorn might look very good on paper. But it’s actually a bad idea, preferred stock is just like vanilla debt except the obligations are not as harsh. Issuing tradable preferred stock is not going to alter or enhance the value of the company. Preferred stock has more senior claims relative to common stock, and as a result common-shareholders will actually be more subordinated in the hierarchy.
And most importantly, there is no tax benefit to be realized from preferred stock dividends. Interest from issuing straight debt is tax deductible, which provides a great incentive for corporations, which preferred dividends don’t have.
Current Buy Back Plan And Offshore Cash
Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has already utilized a sizable portion of the buyback plan in place. In Q1 F2013, Apple already repurchased shares worth $1.95 Billion through an accelerated share repurchase program with a bank. However, due to the current low valuation of the stock, Apple should expedite the remaining balance of the announced share buyback program using multiple banks.
An impediment to doing a buyback is that more than two-thirds of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)'s cash is located offshore, i.e. roughly $94 billion. The company has to pay a massive tax bill at current corporate tax rates for repatriation. Apple is not the only company with this headache, arch-rival Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) also has a majority of its $48 billion located offshore, i.e. $31 billion.