Today, once again, Carl Icahn issued an edict to Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL ) management to commence an immediate tender offer for $150 billion. In the letter, Mr. Icahn offers effusive praise, but requests immediate action.
We want to be very clear that we could not be more supportive of you, the existing management team, the culture at Apple and the innovative spirit it engenders. The criticism we have as shareholders has nothing to do with your management leadership or operational strategy. Our criticism relates to one thing only: the size and timeframe of Apple's buyback program. It is obvious to us that it should be much bigger and immediate.
Here's why Apple should take the advice of former CEO John Sculley and ignore Mr. Icahn.
Carl Icahn is thinking about the next 12 months, Apple is thinking about the next 12 years
Apple took a bold step in its October 22 event by giving its operating system, OS X Mavericks, away for free. In addition, Apple is also giving away its productivity suite, iWork, for free. In both tone and substance, this was Apple taking the opening shot at the 800 lb gorilla in the room, Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT ) Office. It is no secret that Microsoft has missed the mobile and tablet revolutions, but is still a cash cow due to its Microsoft business division that has provided over 50% of Microsoft's operating income over the last three years.
However, this won't be easy. Microsoft Office is the reference standard with businesses, universities, and end users alike. These network effects will be hard to overcome, and Apple will need a considerable war chest in order to compete.
Compare that to Mr. Icahn: In the last year he has entered into a heated argument with fellow investor Bill Ackman about Herbalife, abandoned his battle for Dell, and forced Nuance to adopt poison pill provisions. These actions all have something in common: They all appear to be focused on short-term gains, and not long-term operations.
A taste of Carl's own medicine?
Recent numbers have Mr. Icahn owning around 85% of the outstanding shares of his own company, Icahn Enterprises. You have to wonder how he would react if another investor took a sub-5% stake in his company and asked him to borrow money to initiate a buyback equivalent to his company's entire cash position. Of course, Apple has already authorized $60 billion in buybacks and had a $40 billion balance as of June. So it isn't that Apple isn't repurchasing, it just isn't as large and as fast as Mr. Icahn would like.
Tim Cook, in his classic collaborative style, has already met with Carl Icahn to discuss the size of the buyback. Many Apple fans bristled at this idea, thinking what Jobs' response to Carl's offer would have been.
Final Foolish thoughts
Apple has built an empire out of providing the best experience imaginable to its end users. However, both the smartphone and tablet markets are becoming more competitive. Apple should spend the money on research and development and keep its current capital allocation strategy in place. As far as Carl Icahn is concerned, ignore him -- he will exit this position shortly.
Splashing headlines aside, it's time to really learn about Apple
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