Apple CEO calls Einhorn lawsuit a "silly sideshow"

Tue Feb 12, 2013 5:29pm EST
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By Poornima Gupta and Edwin Chan

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Apple Inc Chief Executive Tim Cook said the board is carefully considering David Einhorn's proposal for the company to issue preferred stock and return more cash to investors, but he called a lawsuit brought by the star hedge fund manager against Apple a "silly sideshow."

Waving aside Einhorn's assertion that Apple is clinging to a "Depression-era" mentality, Cook said on Tuesday the company's board is in "very active discussions" on how to dole out more of its $137 billion hoard of cash and marketable securities.

Einhorn and his Greenlight Capital are suing Apple as part of a wider effort to get the iPhone maker to share more of its cash pile, one of the largest among technology companies. They are challenging "Proposal 2" in Apple's proxy statement, which would abolish a system for issuing preferred stock at its discretion.

Einhorn wants Apple to issue perpetual preferred shares that pay dividends to existing shareholders, which he argued would be superior to dividends or buybacks.

Cook gave Einhorn credit for a novel idea, but the usually unflappable chief executive turned slightly impatient when discussing the lawsuit. He was also dismissive of Einhorn's media and legal blitz - which included the lawsuit as well as multiple television and media interviews.

Einhorn seeks an injunction to block a February 27 shareholders' vote on Proposal 2, in what amounts to the biggest challenge to Apple from an activist investor in years.

"This is a waste of shareholder money and a distraction, and not a seminal issue for Apple. That said, I support Prop 2. I am personally going to vote for it," Cook told a packed hall at Goldman Sachs' annual technology industry conference in San Francisco.

The conflict over Prop 2 "is a silly sideshow," added Cook, who on Tuesday traded in his usual casual jeans attire for slacks and a dark suit jacket, in a nod to Wall Street. Cook said he thought it "bizarre that we would find ourselves being sued for doing something good for shareholders."   Continued...

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks in the demonstration room after the Apple event introducing the new iPad in San Francisco, California March 7, 2012. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith