March 1, 2013 6:04 pm

Einhorn drops lawsuit against Apple

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David Einhorn, president of Greenlight Capital, speaks during the Sohn Investment Conference in New York, in this file photo from May 16, 2012. Einhorn, who is battling Apple Inc in court as part of a wider effort to get the iPhone-maker to share more of its cash pile, hosted a conference call February 21, 2013 to argue the merits of distributing perpetual preferred stock.©Reuters

David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital

David Einhorn has dropped his lawsuit against Apple, ending an obscure battle over corporate governance between his $9bn hedge fund, Greenlight Capital, and the iPhone maker.

Mr Einhorn’s lawsuit was part of a campaign to push Apple to share more of its $137bn cash pile with shareholders. Proposed changes to its corporate charter would have made it harder for the company to issue a new form of high-yielding stock dubbed “iPrefs” by the activist investor.

Greenlight approached Apple last year with its idea for preferred stock, which the company rejected.

Then when Apple published proposed changes to its corporate charter on December 27, it had bundled several changes into so-called “proposal two”. In one vote shareholders were asked to remove the company’s right to issue preferred stock and institute changes to the way Apple elects directors to the board.

The changes to Apple’s voting procedures were the result of a two-year campaign by corporate governance activists, led by the largest US public pension fund, Calpers.

At the start of February, Calpers said it had been enlisted by Apple to ensure that the measures passed, as any changes require the support of at least 50 per cent of all shares outstanding.

Greenlight then sued to block the vote on proposal two, as it claimed the measures had been illegally bundled together in violation of regulatory rules.

Apple said it would hold a shareholder vote on the issuance of preferred stock irrespective of whether the board had the right to do so or not, but a federal judge sided with Mr Einhorn and blocked Apple from holding the vote at its February 27 meeting in Cupertino, California.

At the meeting Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, repeated his opinion that the lawsuit was a “silly sideshow” – but he did say that the company was in “very, very active discussions” about what to do with its $137bn cash pile.

According to people familiar with the situation, before the vote was halted, 97 per cent of votes cast had supported the company’s position on proposal two.

However, following a sharp fall in Apple’s share price in recent months, shareholders voiced a degree of protest over the company’s pay arrangements, with an advisory vote on executive remuneration receiving only 61 per cent support, with votes of 81 per cent of eligible shares counted.

On Friday morning, Apple shares were trading below $434 per share, the lowest level in more than a year, down from a September peak of more than $700.

Greenlight said it had dropped the lawsuit because “Apple removed the bundled proposal from the shareholder meeting, therefore resolving the issue”. Apple declined to comment.

By midday in New York, Apple shares were trading below $434 per share, the lowest level in more than a year, down from a September peak of more than $700, suggesting that the question of Apple’s cash hoard is likely to remain in focus

Additional reporting by Chris Nuttall

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