Can a company ever have too much cash? In the case of phonemically successful Apple Inc., at least one big investor says yes, and he wants the iPad maker to quit being a miser with its $137 billion pile of cash, the most of any U.S. company.
"Apple must examine all of its options to unlock the growing value of its balance sheet for all shareholders," David Einhorn, president of Greenlight Capital, said today. 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.
Einhorn told Bloomberg TV that he's asked Apple management to issue high-yielding preferred shares to reward investors with some of that cash pile, which amounts to more than $145 per Apple share.
"Several hundred dollars per share would be unlocked if Apple were to follow through on this suggestion," Einhorn said in an interview on Bloomberg Television today. "It doesn't put the company at risk. It's not financial leverage in the sense that debt's considered to be."
In a statement today, Apple said: "We find ourselves in the fortunate position of continuing to generate large amounts of cash, including $23 billion in cash flow from operations in the last quarter alone. Apple's management team and Board of Directors have been in active discussions about returning additional cash to shareholders. As part of our review, we will thoroughly evaluate Greenlight Capital's current proposal to issue some form of preferred stock. We welcome Greenlight's views and the views of all of our shareholders."
Apple said that the shareholder proposal that Einhorn has targeted doesn't prohibit the issuance of preferred shares but would require shareholder approval before such stock can be issued.
The company noted that it had earlier announced a plan to return $45 billion to shareholders over three years and $10 billion has been handed out so far.
But analysts who follow the company say Einhorn has a point about the cash hoard.
"There is a widespread belief that Apple does not need to accumulate more cash and should be more aggressive in returning cash," Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi said on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" on Thursday. "I believe that Apple should look to take on debt at very low rate and dramatically increase its dividend. Others believe that Apple should return more cash through buybacks. The fact is for a company to have $137 billion and to be adding $40 billion a year is destroying economic value for shareholders."