Curious Capitalist

Carl Icahn Wins by Losing in Epic Fight With Apple

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Scott Eells / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Carl Icahn is withdrawing the precatory proposal he filed on November 26 to try to get Apple to part with more of its $160 billion cash hoard. But that doesn’t mean he’s lost his war with the tech giant.

Icahn has long felt that “Apple is not a bank,” as he told me for TIME’s recent cover story on the wily investor, and that it should give back some of the cash on the balance sheet to investors. (Much of it is held in overseas bank accounts to avoid higher than average U.S. corporate taxes.) Plenty of people agree with him. Indeed, even the influential proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholders Services, which recommended that shareholders vote against the Icahn precatory proposal, says that Apple’s recent share buybacks, while amongst the largest in history, have been a bit like “bailing with a leaky bucket” given the unprecedented trove of cash the company is sitting on.

While the withdrawal in the face of criticism from other investors may seem like a defeat for Icahn, my feeling is that he ended up exactly where he wanted to be on this one. He’s had his say on investor rights, he’s pushed the company to be somewhat more aggressive in terms of share buybacks than it might have been on its own, and he gets fairly close to where he wanted Apple to be in terms of the sheer dollar amount of buybacks without actually having to engage in a proxy war. Not bad few months’ work for the corporate raider turned “activist” investor.