It seems as though Warren Buffett and Carl Icahn are intent on reminding us that though they may be getting older, they are not getting any less feisty. Earlier this week we heard Buffett predict that Hilary Clinton will win the 2016 presidential election (and I’m hoping his ability to pick stock winners applies to politicians too). Then, this morning Carl Icahn was at his active investing again, sending a letter to Apple (AAPL) asking them to buy back some of their stock.
Icahn has been on a bit of a streak recently, with eBay (EBAY) essentially confirming he was right all along last week by announcing it would finally spin off Paypal. Today, Icahn turned his attention back to Apple and sent them an open letter. In the letter he said he felt Apple shares are extremely undervalued in the market right now and Apple should take advantage of this by using its huge cash pile – $133 billion!- to buy back more shares.
Backing up for a minute, a stock buyback (or share repurchase) is a company investing in itself by buying shares off of the open market and sticking them back in its treasury. This decreases the total number of shares outstanding, which helps investors in a few ways. It increases the percentage ownership for each investor, it increases earnings per share, and the large purchase of stock drives up the stock price. Thus, just like dividends, stock buybacks are a way for a company to share the wealth with its investors.
Icahn thinks Apple should make this move now while it can get its stock on the cheap. He estimates that Apple stock is actually worth $203, double the amount it’s trading for today. He bases this figure on Apple’s high revenue growth rates (65% in the last 3 years), huge potential sales in 2015 from the new Apple Watch and predicted TV, plus Apple’s extremely low price to earnings ratio of 8x. Icahn has made this request of Apple before, and Apple listened somewhat by increasing its capital return program this year.
On the one hand I agree with Icahn that Apple has plenty of room to grow. I stand by my recent recommendation of Apple and am considering adding more to my position. Apple’s P/E is really, really low; even lower than the S&P 500 average. (For context, Google (GOOG) trades at 28x, IBM at 12x, and Netflix (NFLX) at 139x). And as I mentioned in my post after the iPhone 6 and watch announcement, I am very excited for the Apple Watch and think it will be a big winner for Apple.
However, while I think the share price will increase, I don’t buy Icahn’s assertion that the stock will double anytime soon. Average analyst price targets are in the $110-120 range right now. And Icahn is not exactly un-biased in his assertions. He holds 53 million shares of Apple, and I’m sure that he is well aware of the fact that if he comes out in support of a stock, investors will jump to buy it and boost the price. That’s exactly what happened this morning with Apple – the stock jumped 1% after his letter came out and he increased his holding’s value by $53 million (the stock came back down to rest unchanged this afternoon, but still). If the stock doubles like Icahn suggests, he will see an insane $5.4 billion increase over what his investment is worth today.
Apple apparently is getting a little sick and tired of Icahn’s constant interjections and basically shot him down. In response to the letter today, Apple said: “We always appreciate hearing from our shareholders. Since 2013 we’ve been aggressively executing the largest capital return program in corporate history. As we’ve said before, we will review the program annually and take into account the input from all of our shareholders.”
Thank you, Apple, for making all of us investors feel like we’re just as important as Icahn. It may not be true, but we appreciate the sentiment.
And if you’re not an investor yet, I recommend getting in on Apple. While you may not double your investment, and you definitely won’t make $5.4 billion, I think the company is poised for even more growth next year and you just can’t argue with its solid financials and strong cash position.