With a thirty-year bond yield, Apple enters corporate adulthood

Take off the pullover and put on a suit and tie – you aren't a tech stock anymore.

Last week saw Apple turning a final corner in its long development as a company. It is no longer just a tech stock – it's now a boring old blue-chip.

During its quarterly earning earnings call, the company increased its dividend by 15 per cent (it will now pay $3.05 a share every quarter), boosted the size of its share buyback plan sixfold, to $60bn, and, most interestingly, announced a bond issue to pay for it all. The company now intends to return $100bn in total to its shareholders by the end of 2015.

Today, Apple filed its draft prospectus for the bond issue with the SEC, confirming the durations it will be borrowing for and the banks in charge. Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank will be jointly overseeing the issue, which is of sets of two floating rate notes, due in three and five years, and four fixed-rate notes, in durations of up to thirty years. That's barely shorter than the entire lifespan of the company to date, making the investment a real punt in the dark for anyone buying into it.

We don't yet know how much of each duration Apple is planning to borrow, nor – crucially – the rates they are offering. But the plan looks likely to have very little to do with the typical reasons for corporate borrowing: Apple still has an enormous pile of cash, which means that investment isn't the name of the game.

Instead, the company appears to be using its extraordinary creditworthiness – as well as the ultra-low bond yields which are a sign of our times – to overcome an issue it has with that cash pile: most of it is kept overseas.

The US only charges tax on cash which has been "repatriated", so while Apple leaves money from overseas operations overseas, it doesn't have to pay any tax on it. It's waiting – as it has been for years, now – for a "repatriation holiday", when it hopes a future government will temporarily lift that tax to encourage the companies to bring cash home. Until then, if it needs money domestically, borrowing is as good as any other method. And if its rates are low enough, it might even make a bit of money on the deal.

But with dividends, bond yields, and share buybacks, Apple has entered a new – and dull – stage in its corporate progression. These aren't the actions of a high-growth tech stock; they're those of a company bedding in for the long-haul. Apple expects to be here in thirty years, and still be largely the same when it is, and its asking investors to bank on that. Fun for them, but the white-knuckle days are over for us.

Apple CEO Tim Cook at a presentation for the company. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.