Apple (AAPL) CEO Cook: Cash Debate ‘Silly Sideshow’

By Bill McGuire

Feb 12, 2013 11:00am

Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook defended the company’s use of its cash today amid growing calls to deploy or disperse its $137 billion cash hoard, the most of any firm.

“We do have some cash, but it’s a privilege to be in this position …where we can seriously consider returning additional cash to our shareholders,” he told the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference today.

“Apple doesn’t have a depression-era mentality” about cash, he said. The company, he added, makes “bold bets,” investing $10 billion in research and development last year.

Cook said Apple will “thoroughly consider” a proposal by Greenlight Capital’s David Einhorn, who wants the company to issue preferred shares that pay a high dividend.

“Apple must examine all of its options to unlock the growing value of its balance sheet for all shareholders,” Einhorn said last week. His firm owns more than 1.3 million Apple shares.

He’s urging Apple shareholders to vote down a proposal to eliminate preferred stock and has sought a federal court order to bar the firm from certifying votes cast in favor the proposal. Preferred shares often pay a higher dividend than common shares.

“Several hundred dollars per share would be unlocked if Apple were to follow through on this suggestion,” Einhorn said on Bloomberg Television last week. “It doesn’t put the company at risk. It’s not financial leverage in the sense that debt’s considered to be.”

Today, Cook said the Einhorn suit a “silly sideshow” that detracts from Apple’s real mission of creating top products. “Our north star is great products. When everyone comes to work every day they think about that.  We wouldn’t do anything we don’t think is a great product,” he said.

A Greenlight Capital spokesman said in an email today, “If Apple thinks the lawsuit is a waste of resources, it could simply end the matter by complying with existing law and filing a new proxy that unbundles the proposed changes to the charter so that shareholders can express their views on each matter separately.”

Cook, who will be a guest of the president tonight at his State of the Union address, also said Apple has looked at big companies to buy but none has passed muster.

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