Apple rejects 'sunshine shareholders'
Anyone who bought shares expecting a quick buck is in the wrong place, CEO Tim Cook told his annual meeting.
Watching the Apple (AAPL) shareholder meeting with a stock ticker at my side was like watching an EKG of a dying man.
The run-up was filled with hope that "this operation," a proposed cash-ectomy being engineered by David Einhorn, or something like it, might save the patient from its slow and steady decline.
In the early minutes of the meeting the stock actually gained $7 per share, or $6 billion.
Then CEO Tim Cook began speaking and later took questions. By the time he finished the stock was down $9 per share from that peak, a loss of $8 billion. Mr. Cook sure is Mr. Excitement!
Seriously, Cook's message is that he doesn't care what stock pickers think about Apple's policies, regarding its cash or anything else. The man is not for turning. He has his sights set on the long term, with Apple building its new "spaceship" campus by 2016, all the parking underground so it will look more like Alan Harrington's "Crystal Palace" than an office building.
As to products, and strategies, shareholders will learn about them when everyone else does. Apple will move when it moves, do what it does and if you don't like it, sell.
For people who bought anywhere near the stock's $700 peak, it was a cold slap in the face. Apple will make that investment good on Apple's timeframe, not yours, Cook was saying. Apple will disgorge its $137 billion in cash how it chooses to, not how you want it to. You, Cook implied, are not the boss of me.
For most companies, those answers would have been satisfactory. But that fall, whatever caused it, represents a loss to shareholders of nearly $200 billion. No one has ever shrugged off $200 billion before. Even Congress might call that real money.
It's like the whole episode is a test, and Cook the professor. Are you a trader or an investor? Do you get into a stock to make a quick buck, or because you believe in the company you're buying for the long haul? If it's the former, go away. If it's the latter, patience.
Harold Lindon of Stocktwits.com left the meeting saying he would keep his long position, but otherwise was "licking my wounds." In other words, he's not selling -- nor is he buying. His Apple money has gone from being a speculation to an investment. Cook would be pleased.
As James Surowiecki noted at The New Yorker this week, most of Apple's problems lie in the developing world, where people won't buy both a tablet and a smartphone, and where value trumps desire every time. Samsung is killing Apple with its "Phablet," a small tablet that also does voice calls. It's just barely small enough to fit your hand around and hold next to your ear.
The Phablet is silly. But it's the "all-in-one" solution Chinese and Indian consumers can afford. It's good enough.
Apple refuses to just be "good enough." That's in its DNA. It demands excellence of itself, and expects its customers to pay for what it considers value.
In the end, Tim Cook is defying not the shareholders, but technology's "s-curve," which holds that you price high early in a product's life cycle, then price to costs once the market approaches maturity.
Apple doesn't do the "value price." It never has, and Cook says it never will. Apple innovates, and it doesn't tell the market what it's doing until it has done it. That won't change -- if you don't like it, don't buy the stock.
Traders are not welcome among Apple's shareholders. Cook might, if he were selling a country rather than a company, call them "summer soldiers" and "sunshine patriots" (per Thomas Paine). When the stock price is under attack, they may shrink from Apple's service, and good riddance.
If you're obsessing over the Apple stock ticker, you're the kind of "sunshine shareholder" Cook is happy to see flatline.
At the time of publication the author had a position in AAPL.
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