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.

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The TV stars MPs would love to be

Labour MPs dream of being Jed Bartlet.

In my latest book, A State of Play, I looked at the changing ways in which Britain’s representative democracy has been fictionalized since the later Victorian period. With the support of the University of Nottingham, we decided to turn the tables and ask MPs about their favourite fictional political characters. The results are intriguing.

All MPs were contacted, but with only 49 responding – that’s a 7.5 per cent return rate – I can’t claim the results are fully representative. At 22 per cent, women figured slightly less than they actually do in the Commons. But the big difference is in party terms: 71 per cent of respondents were Labour MPs – double their share in the Commons – while just 20 per cent were Conservatives, less than half their proportion in the Lower House. Maybe Conservative MPs are busier and have better things to do than answer surveys? Or perhaps they just don’t take political fiction – and possibly culture more generally - as seriously as those on the Opposition benches.

What is not subject to speculation, however, is that Labour MPs have very different tastes to their Conservatives rivals, suggesting they are more optimistic about what politics might achieve. At 22 per cent, the most favourite character chosen by MPs overall was Jed Bartlet, heroic US President in Aaron Sorkin’s romantic TV series The West Wing. Of those MPs who nominated Bartlett, every one was Labour. Of course Barlet is a Democrat and the series - dismissed by critics as The Left Wing – looked favourably on progressive causes. But it seems Labour MPs regard Bartlet as an archetype for more than his politics. As one put it, he is, "the ideal leader: smart, principled and pragmatic" For some, Bartlet stands in stark contrast with their current leader. One respondent wistfully characterised the fictional President as having, "Integrity, learning, wit, electability... If only...".

As MPs mentioned other characters from The West Wing, the series accounted for 29 per cent of all choices. Its nearest rival was the deeply cynical House of Cards, originally a novel written by Conservative peer Michael Dobbs and subsequently adapted for TV in the UK and US. Taken together, Britain’s Francis Urquhart and America’s Frank Underwood account for 18 per cent of choices, and are cross-party favourites. One Labour MP dryly claimed Urquhart – who murders his way to Number 10 due to his obsession with the possession of power - "mirrors most closely my experience of politics".

Unsurprisingly, MPs nominated few women characters - politics remains a largely male world, as does political fiction. Only 14 per cent named a female character, the most popular being Birgitte Nyborg from Denmark’s TV series Borgen. Like The West Wing, the show presents politics as a place of possibility. Not all of those nominating Nyborg were female, although one female MP who did appeared to directly identify with the character, saying: "She rides a bike, has a dysfunctional life and isn't afraid of the bastards."

Perhaps the survey’s greatest surprise was which characters and series turned out to be unpopular. Jim Hacker of Yes Minister only just made it into the Top Five, despite one Conservative MP claiming the series gives a "realistic assessment of how politics really works". Harry Perkins, who led a left-wing Labour government in A Very British Coup received just one nomination – and not from an MP who might be described as a Corbynite. Only two MPs suggested characters from Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels, which in the past claimed the likes of Harold MacMillan, Douglas Hurd and John Major as fans. And only one character from The Thick of It was nominated - Nicola Murray the struggling minister. 

The results suggest that MPs turn to political fiction for different reasons. Some claimed they liked their characters for – as one said of House of Cards's Frank Underwood – "the entertainment value". But others clearly identified with their favourites. There is clearly a preference for characters in series like The West Wing and Borgen, where politicians are depicted as ordinary people doing a hard job in trying circumstances. This suggests they are largely out of step with the more cynical presentations of politics now served up to the British public.

Top 5 political characters

Jed Bartlett - 22 per cent

Frank Underwood - 12 per cent

Francis Urquhart - 6 per cent

Jim Hacker - 6 per cent

Birgitte Nyborg - 6 per cent

Steven Fielding is Professor of Political History at the University of Nottingham. Follow him @polprofsteve.