If you’re an activist investor your job is to (1) think of an idea for how to make a company’s stock go up, (2) buy stock in the company, (3) convince them to do your idea, and (4) sell high. Step 3 tends to involve lots of attention-seeking – it’s easier to wear a company down into doing your idea if they’re constantly hearing about it from other shareholders and reporters and stuff – but steps 1 and 2, importantly, don’t.1 If you tell everyone about your great idea for Apple to issue GO-UPS,2 then they’ll all realize that Apple will certainly do it and unlock tens of billions of dollars of value, so they’ll bid up the stock before you can buy it and you’ll lose the opportunity to benefit from all those gains. That may be a bad example but just work with me here.
There’s another way of putting that, which is: if you secretly conceive of an idea to make Apple a better company, and then secretly buy up a bunch of Apple stock, and then announce to the world “surprise! I have 12% of Apple’s stock, and a brilliant idea that starts with a thematically appropriate lowercase i!,” and the stock goes up, and you make a lot of money – isn’t that unfair? You got to buy stock at the low, pre-publication-of-your-idea price; the people who sold to you were bamboozled into selling out too low because they didn’t know about your great idea. It almost “smacks of insider trading.”
Or something. I may not be doing this theory justice because I think it’s silly: that great idea is your idea; why shouldn’t you be able to make money off of it? (And why should anyone else?) The money is your incentive to come up with the idea in the first place, and do the hard ego-stroking work of pitching it to CNBC and the target company; if you had to share it with free-riders why would you take on the responsibility? We talked about this a little last year when there were vague rumors that the SEC was buying into it, and that they might require investors to disclose 5% stakes within 1 day of acquiring them (instead of the current 10 days), and include synthetic share ownership in computing the 5%, in order to make it harder for activists to secretly accumulate shares. I have not heard much about that proposal since, though I hesitate to assign any causality.
But last week in another, colder part of town, someone proposed the same thing. Canada, I mean. Canadian securities regulators proposed: Read more »
Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch says Apple deserves better than the treatment it’s getting from David Einhorn, the hedge-fund manager pressuring the iPhone maker to cough up dividends. “Look, these guys are after a quick hit. I’d blow him off,” he told CNBC’s “Closing Bell.” “I’d give Einhorn the back of my hand.” Welch said he had the same kind of problem with activist investors while heading GE. “They’d come after us, ‘What are you going to do with all that cash?’ Well, we’re going to do a smart thing! Trust us!” Welch said. [CNBC, related, related]
Henry Winkler once said, “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.”1 In 2011, Bill Ackman assumed it was okay to talk to The New York Times about David Einhorn’s business and, like a homeowner forced to move out for three days while a pest control company sprays the place, he’s been forced to pay. Big time. Read more »
So David Einhorn won his lawsuit against Apple today, which means that Apple will be forced by a court order to issue $236 billion of “iPref” 4% perpetual preferred stock next week, which I currently see bid at 4.06% in the gray market for $10 million lots.
Hahaha no of course it doesn’t mean that. It means nothing! Except that everyone is kind of peeved. There are some things you could say against Calpers corporate-governance guru Anne Simpson’s position on Apple/Einhorn, but she’s not wrong about this:
“I came off the call deeply puzzled,” Anne Simpson, the pension fund’s director of global governance, told DealBook in an interview after [yesterday's Einhorn] call [pitching iPrefs]. “He finished off by saying you should vote against Proposal 2 to send a message, but he’s in court trying to prevent Proposal 2 from going ahead.”
Right? Read more »
I used to work on sort of a cats-and-dogs capital markets desk, which occasionally meant that spivvy companies without great access to the equity and bond markets, or industry bankers who were a bit too clever for their own good, came to me and asked “hey, what if we issued preferred stock?”1 I cannot recall that ever working out well. “Preferred stock” is a thing that exists in corporate finance textbooks, and occasionally solves for quirky corporate finance equations (“can we structure this investment as debt only it isn’t debt …”), but its practical uses tend to be limited to:
- private companies, private investments in public companies, joint ventures, VC investments, and other non-publicly-traded things;
- convertible preferred stock, which is not really the same thing at all;
- convertible preferred’s weird Warren-Buffett-and-TARP cousin, “preferred stock with warrants”; and
- a couple of sectors that are really into leverage, capital-structure engineering, and retail financing – meaning mostly banks, insurance companies and REITs.
So David Einhorn’s too-clever-for-his-own-good “iPrefs” deck brought back fond memories: why not convince a tech company that the next level of financial-engineering innovation is to issue preferred stock? And, since the phrase “preferred stock” does still kind of conjure up turn-of-the-last-century financial markets and/or cheesy cologne, why not rebrand it as “iPrefs”? There is something … something very investment-banker-y about taking an absolutely standard financial product, giving it a different name, and calling it an innovation. Of course I love it.
The only thing I love more than the name is the ambition. Read more »
So there’s this fight over what Apple should do with its money and I think it boils down to:
- Lots of people think that Apple is undervalued,
- Some of those people say: “so, since the market undervalues you, a dollar in your hands is valued less than a dollar in shareholders’ hands, and since you have Just. So. Many. Dollars. in your hands, why not give some back to shareholders, like in the form of colossal dividends, or even more amusingly in the form of tens or hundreds of billions of dollars of preferred stock?”
- Others say: “no, the market’s valuation is irrelevant, you should stealthily keep investing your zillions of dollars into building wrist computers or whatever, and one day your stock will catch up.”
If these arguments sound familiar that’s because they are; you can pretty much always find an activist who thinks that a company should return cash to shareholders feuding with a management who thinks they should be investing that cash in growing the business. And they’re endless because they’re tough to adjudicate: everyone is sort of talking their own book. There is a pile of money, and some people say “we should have the money,” and others say “no we should have the money,” and, y’know, duh they’d say that. Are return-the-cash activist shareholders just greedy short-termers destroying long-term value? Are managers who prefer to invest the cash just blinkered empire-builders who don’t care about the welfare of the people actually funding their wrist-computer adventures?
I dunno. Here are some hypotheses: Read more »
“It is kind of like my grandma Roz. She wanted to hoard money. She would not leave me a message on my answering machine because she did not want to be charged for a phone call. It is really hard to convince somebody with that mindset to change what they’re doing. We have come up with what we think is a win-win situation for Apple where Apple gets to keep its war chest, they get to keep the money, they get to have it for bad times, for growth, for acquisitions.”[Bloomberg TV, earlier]
David Einhorn is suing Apple to make them give shareholders a separate vote over whether shareholders should have a vote over whether Apple can issue preferred stock. I guess that requires some unpacking. Let’s start at the end, with the preferred stock. Here is Einhorn’s plan:
For example, Apple could initially distribute to existing shareholders $50 billion of perpetual preferred stock, with a 4% annual cash dividend paid quarterly at preferential tax rates. … Assuming Apple retains its price to earnings multiple of 10x and the preferred stock yields 4%, our calculations show that every $50 billion of perpetual preferred stock that Apple distributes would unlock about $30 billion, or $32 per share in value. Greenlight believes that Apple has the capacity to ultimately distribute several hundred billion dollars of preferred, which would unlock hundreds of dollars of value per share. Further, Greenlight believes additional value may be realized when Apple’s price to earnings multiple expands, as the market appreciates a more shareholder friendly capital allocation policy.
What do you think? I vote yes. (I mean, I think it’s a good idea. The voting is more complicated.) My math is here and ties closely to Einhorn’s:
The math is super straightforward though it can and should boggle you conceptually if you think about it. Read more »
David Einhorn, Greenlight Capital: “Cranberry sauce — not from the can, just cranberries and sugar.” Julian Robertson, Tiger Management: “Wild rice.” Gary Cohn, Goldman Sachs: “Oysters — not shucked by me.” Glenn Dubin, Highbridge Capital Management: “I love turkey. I would love to eat turkey all year round, because I’m a chicken person.” David Hasselhoff, actor: “I miss the dish my mother used to make: it was green beans, with a layer of marshmallows, and corn flakes on top.” [Bloomberg via LaurenTaraLaCapra, RELATED]
So I guess the Einhorn effect hasn’t yet taken London by storm? There’s this:
David Einhorn’s $7.7 billion hedge fund Greenlight Capital Inc. disclosed a short position of 4.4 percent in the shares of Daily Mail and General Trust Plc, which publishes the U.K.’s second-biggest selling daily newspaper.
Greenlight’s bearish bet on London-based Daily Mail and General Trust, disclosed today on the website of the U.K.’s Financial Services Authority, was the biggest short position revealed by any hedge fund against a U.K. company under rules that took effect last week.
And yet there’s also this:
What are you doing, England? Don’t you know that when David Einhorn is short a stock, that stock goes down? There are rules here you know; today’s mild drop is not enough to comply. Read more »