Einhorn has a point: what the hell is Apple doing sitting on that money?

Apple hoards cash, apparently, "like a person who has gone through a trauma".

Apple has had to fend off an attack from one of its share holders who is demanding it fork out more of its $137bn cash pile to investors.

David Einhorn has sued iPhone maker Apple accusing the most valuable company in the world of having a “depression era” mentality.

But for a company with a reputation like Apple, which no amount of third world worker scandals seems able to damage, this should be seen as nothing more than an advertisement, splashing the fact that Apple is sitting on more ready cash than a fair amount of small countries on to headlines around the world.

The billionaire activist, who heads up hedge fund Greenlight Capital, told US TV news channel CNBC that Apple hoards cash like a person who has gone through a trauma, referring to Apples near bankruptcy in the early ‘90s before Steve Jobs turned the firms fortunes around with the introduction of the iPod.

Apple shares have tumbled 35 per cent from their peak in September 2012 as its growth has slowed, despite the successful, if not phenomenal, launch of the iPad mini and iPhone 5.

Einhorn’s opinion may be justified; Apple is planning to eliminate its “preferred” stock, which pays out a fixed dividend over time, at its shareholder meeting later this month. These shares are better than ordinary shares when it comes to paying out a company's assets.

Einhorn, it should be noted, has a history of corporate meddling. In May 2011, Einhorn called for Steve Ballmer, (who is still) CEO of Microsoft, to step down after Microsoft was passed by both IBM and Apple in market value.

While Einhorn may not be the most trustworthy of activists, his point may well stand: What the hell is Apple doing with all that money? 

Apple has never explained its reasons for holding onto the cash other than to say its preserving its options but it certainly isn’t using it to develop new products. Apple's tally for research and development in 2012 was 2 per cent of its annual spend, dwarfed by its tech rivals. IBM’s for example is 6 per cent.

While Einhorn’s motives for demanding Apple make use of their cash maybe entirely about increasing his own fortune, Apple is in danger of stagnation if it doesn’t use its vast hoard wisely. 

Maybe the reason it has yet to spend its money is that, without the guiding light of Jobs at the helm, it doesn’t know what to spend it on.

Photograph: Getty Images

Billy Bambrough writes for Retail Banker International at VRL financial news.
 

Photo: Getty Images
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There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR