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Carl Icahn Bailed on Apple; Was He Right to Do So?

By Motley Fool Staff - May 5, 2016 at 6:00AM

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After several years of investor activism and blunt public statements about the value of the company, Carl Icahn has sold all his Apple stock. We explain why he did -- and why you may (or may not) want to follow him.

In this Industry Focus: Tech segment, Motley Fool analysts Dylan Lewis and Nathan Hamilton share how they feel about investing in Apple (AAPL 2.45%) today, following the news that Carl Icahn exited his position in the stock.

Find out why its low multiple might not be as exciting as it appears, why it's no longer a growth company, and the reasons why investors might be interested in buying it. Dylan and Nathan also discuss how investors can make a nice return for themselves by investing in tech companies that are as established as Apple.

A transcript follows the video.

This podcast was recorded on April 29, 2016.

Dylan Lewis: You mentioned Carl Icahn has sold his entire position in Apple. That was one of the big news items of the past week, following earnings, of course. He cited concerns of the Chinese market. One of the things he did say, though, is that the stock is still cheap on a multiples basis. So, I have to ask you, what are your thoughts on the company at this point? Where do they fit in?

Nathan Hamilton: I'll give you my thoughts, but actually go back to some thinking I had maybe two years ago, when I loaded up on a few more Apple shares. I told myself, "If Apple ever dips below nine times earnings, I'm going to buy shares regardless of whether I think it's a high-growth company, or just want a dividend or some sort of income." Right now, shares are just below 10 times earnings, which, on all accounts, if you compare it to IBMOracleCisco, which are all trading for multiples above 12 times earnings, it does look pretty cheap. But you have to put it in context. 

I still think -- and maybe I'll go on a little bit of a rant here -- a lot of people still think of Apple as a growth company. And I don't know if it's just looking in from the outside and not recognizing exactly what Apple is, and what's happening with the business, but it's really not, when it comes down to it. You almost have to focus on it and say, "What do I want to invest in Apple for?" How I'm looking at it at this point is, I like the dividend, I like the capital-return program. I'm holding for the longer term, when it comes down to it. 

But as you look over, OK, two to three years from now, based upon what we know at this very moment, us not being a board member, not being part of Jony Ive's design team and knowing exactly what they're working on, these game-changing products, we don't know exactly what's going to come out in the next few years. You have to look at it over that time frame and say, "Okay, there's nothing that really stands out and says revenue is going to move significantly, and I'll see my share price increase by that amount." So I'm all about the dividend now.

Lewis: To your point about it not being a growth company anymore, it's very difficult to experience extreme growth when you're already at a market cap of, like, $500 billion.

Hamilton: Yeah. Not to say they can't do it. But lightning striking twice like the iPhone, and doing so over the next few years -- which, for many investors, that's the time frame they look at -- I don't necessarily believe that'll be the case. But maybe we'll do a throwback show two years from now, and I'm completely eating my words. It's not a hard prediction, but all the signs point in that direction.

Lewis: Yeah. And a lot of investors have done very well by buying and holding dividend-paying tech companies, DRIPing the dividends, and letting that compound over time.

Hamilton: Nothing's wrong with that.  Yeah, if you're into options, selling puts, selling calls, those are all strategies to grab more income, if you want to juice up that 2% yield, if it's not sexy enough for you.

Lewis: On my end...

Hamilton: Yeah, what are you doing?

Lewis: I'm still an Apple bull. Perhaps, after the necessary period passes, where we're not allowed to buy after talking about a company for a certain amount of time, I might consider adding to my position. But I'm really not going to be...

Hamilton: Sorry, let's flip the interview here. Why are you thinking to add to the position?

Lewis: I'm not freaked out about iPhone sales, and I won't be until I see what happens with the iPhone 7. I think, like we were talking about before, the two-year comp cycle is much more relevant. People know the big changes will come when the number changes on the phone. So I'm not too worried about it. If they come out with a dud on the iPhone 7, then you start to think, "Okay, this is real stability."

I'm still in the same camp as you, with it being more of a moderate- to low-growth company that pays a nice dividend that'll be around forever. But I think a lot of the iPhone issues, and the concerns there, are a little overblown. I'm also excited to see what happens with the emerging markets. I think India is a huge opportunity. I think once they refresh the iPhone 7, there should be some nice response in China, as well.

Hamilton: Wouldn't it be amazing if Apple surprises us and says, "We're not doing an iPhone 7, we're going back." They almost did with the SE, somewhat.

Lewis: Yeah, and that's a great way to meet that market. So we'll see what happens there.

Hamilton: Absolutely.

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