SAN FRANCISCO — Apple chief executive Tim Cook said the board is carefully considering David Einhorn’s proposal for the company to issue preferred stock and return more cash to investors, but he called a lawsuit brought by the star hedge fund manager against Apple a “silly sideshow.”
Waving aside Einhorn’s assertion that Apple is clinging to a “Depression-era” mentality, Cook said Tuesday that the board is discussing how to dole out more of its $137 billion hoard of cash and marketable securities.
Einhorn and his Greenlight Capital are suing Apple as part of a wider effort to get the iPhone maker to share more of its cash pile, one of the largest among technology companies. They are challenging “Proposal 2” in Apple’s proxy statement, which would abolish a system for issuing preferred stock at its discretion.
The lawsuit, the first major challenge from an activist shareholder in years, calls on Apple to issue perpetual preferred shares that pay dividends to existing shareholders. Such a vehicle, Einhorn says, would be superior to dividends or share buybacks.
Cook gave Einhorn credit for a novel idea, but the usually unflappable chief executive turned slightly impatient when discussing the lawsuit. He was also dismissive of Einhorn’s lawsuit as multiple television and media interviews.
“This is a waste of shareholder money and a distraction, and not a seminal issue for Apple. That said, I support Prop 2. I am personally going to vote for it,” Cook told a packed hall at Goldman Sachs’ annual technology industry conference in San Francisco.
The conflict over Prop 2 “is a silly sideshow,” added Cook, who said he thought it “bizarre that we would find ourselves being sued for doing something good for shareholders.”
Einhorn’s clash with Apple centers on a proposed change to its charter that would eliminate the company’s ability to issue “blank check” preferred stock at its discretion. Apple, which said the change would not preclude future issuance of preferred shares, is recommending that shareholders vote in favor at its annual meeting Feb. 27.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, objects to the bundling of the charter change with two other corporate governance-related proposals in Prop 2.
The hedge fund manager, a well-known short-seller and Apple gadget fan, counters that striking the preferred-share mechanism from the charter would make it more difficult to issue such securities down the road.
Apple’s share price has tumbled in recent months from a high of just over $700 last September. In Tuesday’s trading, shares fell 12.09, or 2.5 percent, to close at $467.84.