Greenlight suggested an initial preferred share distribution, whereby dividends could be funded on an ongoing basis by a relatively small percentage of the Company’s operating cash flow. Apple rejected the idea outright in September 2012. Yesterday, after Greenlight notified Apple of its intention to vote against Proposal 2, Apple said it would reconsider the idea, but refused to withdraw the proxy provision where Apple seeks to eliminate preferred stock from its charter.
The recent, severe under-performance of Apple’s shares, which are down approximately 35% from their peak valuation, underscores the need for the Company to apply the same level of creativity used to develop revolutionary technology for its consumers to unlock the value of its strong balance sheet for its shareholders.
We believe our suggestion of distributing perpetual preferred stock, while innovative, is also quite simple. Apple could distribute high-yielding, tax efficient preferred stock to existing shareholders at no cost. This new type of easily tradable preferred security would allow Apple to take advantage of the market’s appetite for yield while preserving future operating and strategic flexibility. Importantly, we believe this strategy would require no immediate use of cash other than the ongoing dividend, and would not pose any maturity, re-financing, balance sheet, or default risk.
For example, Apple could initially distribute to existing shareholders $50 billion of perpetual preferred stock, with a 4% annual cash dividend paid quarterly at preferential tax rates. Once a trading market is established and the market recognizes the attractiveness of a highly liquid, steady yielding instrument from an issuer backed by Apple’s unmatched balance sheet and valuable franchise, the Board could evaluate unlocking additional value by distributing additional perpetual preferred stock to existing shareholders. With this conservative action, Greenlight believes the Board could unlock hundreds of billions of dollars of latent shareholder value.
Assuming Apple retains its price to earnings multiple of 10x and the preferred stock yields 4%, our calculations show that every $50 billion of perpetual preferred stock that Apple distributes would unlock about $30 billion, or $32 per share in value. Greenlight believes that Apple has the capacity to ultimately distribute several hundred billion dollars of preferred, which would unlock hundreds of dollars of value per share. Further, Greenlight believes additional value may be realized when Apple’s price to earnings multiple expands, as the market appreciates a more shareholder friendly capital allocation policy.
Apple’s Attempt To Remove A Potential Means Of Value Creation
Should Concern ALL Shareholders
As holders of more than 1.3 million Apple shares, Greenlight is alarmed that Apple is attempting to eliminate preferred stock from its corporate charter, hindering its ability to unlock value for shareholders. This is an unprecedented action to curtail the Company’s options. We are not aware of any other company that has ever voluntarily taken this step. Furthermore, over 90% of the S&P 500 companies have the flexibility to issue similar preferred shares.
Apple is attempting to package this provision with two positive corporate governance reforms that we would normally support. Apple is asking shareholders to approve or disapprove of all three changes in a single bundled vote.
We believe that the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) proxy rules require that Apple provide for a separate vote on each matter presented to its shareholders for approval at the shareholder meeting. This ‘unbundling’ rule is designed to permit shareholders to express their vote on each individual matter and to not be forced to vote on a combined package of items. This prevents companies from forcing shareholders to approve matters that they might not vote for if presented independently.