Apple's Share Buybacks: An Admission That Nothing Is New

Source: JoeInQueens, via Wikimedia Commons
In the two weeks since announcing financial results, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) has repurchased $14 billion of its own shares in both open market transactions ($2 billion) and through an “accelerated” repurchase program ($12 billion). Apple CEO Tim Cook said that Apple has repurchased more than $40 billion worth of its own shares in the past 12 months, a total he claimed is a record for any company.

Who cares? Certainly not activist investor Carl Icahn; he wants Apple to add another $50 billion to its already massive $60 billion stock repurchase plan. And why does Cook appear to care?

Share buybacks are generally an announcement that a company has run out of ideas, that it cannot think of anything better to do with its cash than dump it from a helicopter over the eager, open paws of shareholders. Cook said, “[W]e are betting on Apple. [The buyback] means that we are really confident on what we are doing and what we plan to do.”

It is possible to argue just the opposite: Apple has no idea what it is doing nor any idea what to do next. If Apple had a big idea why would it want to reduce its war chest for producing and marketing that big new idea? Sure the company’s $160 billion cash hoard is perhaps bigger than it needs to be, but Apple could readily tell Icahn and other disgruntled shareholders to go pound sand if the company had another iPod, iPhone or iPad about to hit the market.

But the company doesn’t. And that is why Tim Cook has to sound like he cares about shareholders:

[Apple must] be able to adjust for the long-term interest of the shareholders, not for the short-term shareholder, not for the day trader.

Who’s he kidding? Apple’s actions might turn out to be in the interests of long-term shareholders, but they are immediately and certainly in the interests of activist investors and day traders.

Premarket trading in Apple shares Friday lifted the stock by 1.7% to $521.03, in a 52-week range of $385.10 to $575.14.