Hedge fund guru Carl Icahn, whose fund owns about $4 billion in Apple (AAPL -1.51%) stock, has been pushing for the company to boost its repurchase program for some time now. Initially suggesting Apple repurchase $150 billion in shares, his request has scaled back to $50 billion recently. But today he pulled his request after acknowledging that Apple is basically already on pace to repurchase shares close to this magnitude within the year anyway.
On track for a massive buyback
According to the proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services, or ISS, Apple is on pace to repurchase at least $32 billion in shares in fiscal 2014. ISS argued in a request that Apple shareholders vote against Icahn's proposal for a larger buyback that $32 billion is just $18 billion short of Icahn's proposal. Icahn says he agrees with ISS and has pulled his proposal.
Though it's interesting to see Icahn back down, it shouldn't be a big surprise to investors. Icahn had recently praised Apple for its $14 billion spending on repurchases in a two-week period following an 8% sell-off to shares after the company announced its first-quarter results. Apple CEO Tim Cook called the purchase "opportunistic" and "aggressive" in a WSJ interview.
To announce to his decision to withdraw his proposal, Icahn unveiled another letter at his website launched last year called Shareholders' Square Table. The letter's sentiment suggested Icahn was satisfied with Apple's aggressiveness:
While we are disappointed that last night ISS recommended against our proposal, we do not altogether disagree with their assessment and recommendation in light of recent actions taken by the company to aggressively repurchase shares in the market.
Reflecting on Apple's valuation
Of course Icahn couldn't help but to reflect on Apple's valuation again in his most recent letter, saying that Apple "continues to be extremely undervalued." Even at $550 per share, Icahn was calling Apple a "no brainer."
While investors should certainly do there own due diligence, some of Icahn's recent investments bode well for his track record at finding undervalued stock picks. In his open letter to Tim Cook in January, Icahn cited a slew of recent picks he bet big on because they were undervalued, including Netflix, Forest Labs, and Herbalife -- all up more than 50% in the past twelve months.
Of course it doesn't take expert analysis to realize Apple is cheap relative to its underlying fundamentals. Despite the fact that Apple is clearly a cash cow, it trades at just 13 times earnings compared to the S&P 500 at about 17 times earnings. Given the company's conservative valuation, Apple's recent aggressive repurchases are good news. Investors, like Icahn, should be incrementally more confident in the underlying value of Apple shares with Apple being more opportunistic in its buyback program.