Apple CEO Tim Cook was trying to have it both ways at the company’s annual shareholder meeting today. He did his best to let shareholders know that the company was seriously looking at ways to return cash to investors, while at the same time diminishing hedge fund manager David Einhorn, who has been pushing Apple to pay out more cash, as an annoying but inconsequential gnat.
Einhorn, the head of Greenlight Capital, recently proposed a plan for Apple to create “iPrefs,” preferred shares that would issue a fixed dividend “forever.” Apple wanted shareholders at the meeting to vote on a motion that could have prohibited iPrefs, but last week Einhorn won a lawsuit to block that vote, and it was dropped. Many Apple investors applauded Einhorn’s move, since it seemed the tech giant was listening to shareholder pleas for cash for the first time.
Nonetheless, Cook still dismissed Einhorn every time he was asked about him at the gathering. The Apple chief reiterated his characterization of Einhorn’s lawsuit as “silly sideshow.” But he was careful to let investors know that while he thought Einhorn is silly, he didn’t think the “issue of returning cash to shareholders is silly.” He also said Apple was in “very, very active discussion on cash.”
The reason Apple is vulnerable to shareholder pressure now is that its stock has fallen by about 37% since trading above $700 last fall. The company has faced increasing competition from Samsung in mobile phones and tablets. At the meeting, Cook said that Apple doesn’t have “our heads stuck in the sand.” He added that he and the board don’t like where the stock is trading now but “we’re focused on the long term.”
So did Cook manage to walk the fine line between dismissing Einhorn and mollifying shareholders? It would appear not: Apple shares fell by about 0.9% this afternoon. Investors are still waiting for Cook to show them the money—and not silly money, obviously.