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Icahn Retreats from Apple Battle on Stock Buybacks

Icahn Retreats from Apple Battle on Stock Buybacks
February 12, 2014 9:30AM

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Billionaire investor Carl Icahn dropped his push for a larger share buyback from Apple after it appeared the idea faced mounting opposition from other stockholders who supported the company's board. Icahn cited Apple's recent flurry of stock repurchases as one of the reasons for his change of heart, saying he was pleased with the moves.

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Activist investor Carl Icahn is retreating from his battle with Apple's board of directors, ending a high-profile campaign to pressure the iPhone maker into spending more money to buy back its own stock.

The about-face outlined in an Icahn letter to Apple's shareholders figures to turn the company's Feb. 28 annual meeting into a more sedate affair.

Icahn had been trying to drum up support for a non-binding proposal urging Apple Inc. to spend at least $50 billion buying back its shares during the fiscal year ending in September. The idea faced mounting opposition from other stockholders who supported the company's board.

To hit Icahn's target, Apple's board would have had to increase the volume of stock buybacks authorized under a program unveiled last year. That plan allows Apple to spend $60 billion on its stock through December 2015. The company only had $37 billion still left for stock purchases under that plan as it began the fiscal year.

That means the board would have had to expand the stock repurchase program to placate Icahn, an irascible billionaire who has a long history of pestering companies to embrace his ideas after buying large stakes in them. Icahn began buying Apple stock about six months ago and has said he owns more than $3 billion worth of the shares. His holdings translate to a stake of less than 1 percent.

Apple declined to comment Monday. The Cupertino, Calif., company previously has said it remains committed to making sensible use of the nearly $159 billion in cash that it held at the end of December.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company spent $14 billion buying back stock in the past two weeks. Shares had dropped 8 percent following a quarterly earnings report that disappointed Wall Street.

Icahn cited Apple's recent flurry of stock repurchases as one of the reasons for his change of heart.

"We are pleased that Tim and the board have exhibited the `opportunistic' and `aggressive' approach to share repurchases that we hoped to instill with our proposal," Icahn wrote in an open letter to Apple's shareholders. He also said he is excited about Cook's pledge to release new products this year that will expand Apple's line-up beyond smartphones, tablets and personal computers.

Apple's stock gained $9.31, or nearly 2 percent, to close at $528.99. The stock remains about 25 percent below its peak reached in September 2012. Investors are fretting about Apple's slowing growth amid tougher competition in the mobile device market. (continued...)

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