Billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn announced Wednesday shares of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) should be trading at 20 times earnings per share of their current level, valuing the tech giant at $216 per share, sharply exceeding its record high of $124.92 the company hit Wednesday. This would translate into the tech giant being worth nearly $1.3 trillion.
The move comes a day after the world's most valuable company ended Tuesday’s trading session setting a new milestone, hitting a market capitalization of more than $700 billion. This marked the first time a U.S. company has broken through the feat.
The company closed Wednesday up more than 2 percent to $124.88, valuing the company at $711.59 billion.
“By and large, my view is, for cash that we don’t need -- with some level of buffer -- we want to give it back [to shareholders]. It may come across that we are, but we’re not hoarders,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said Tuesday.
Icahn, who has amassed 53 million shares worth $6.5 billion, also boosted his forecast for earnings per share in 2015 to $9.70 from $9.60.
“This position with respect to excess cash is great news for shareholders, and we look forward to the capital return program update in April, anticipating it will include a large increase to share repurchases,” Icahn said in a note to Twitter followers Wednesday that was published on his website Shareholders’ Square Table.
This isn’t the first time Icahn has urged Apple to buy back more shares as Ichan has urged the company multiple times to buy back more shares and raise its dividend. In October, Icahn argued shares of Apple were at “half price,” arguing that the company could obtain more value for shareholders by buying back more stock.
Apple posted quarterly earnings Jan. 27 that smashed Wall Street expectations, with 74.5 million iPhones sold during the holiday quarter, another record for Apple. The company also reported a record-breaking profit of $18 billion.
Here's the full text of the letter Carl Icahn sent to his followers Wednesday and published on his website, Shareholders’ Square Table:
Dear Twitter Followers:
We were pleased to hear Tim Cook yesterday state publicly: “By and large, my view is, for cash that we don’t need – with some level of buffer – we want to give it back [to shareholders]. It may come across that we are, but we’re not hoarders.” This position with respect to excess cash is great news for shareholders, and we look forward to the capital return program update in April, anticipating it will include a large increase to share repurchases.
On August 13, 2013, when Apple was trading at just $66.77, we originally notified our twitter followers of our conversations with Tim Cook and of our request that Apple take advantage of its excess liquidity by repurchasing its dramatically undervalued shares. Despite significant share appreciation over a relatively short timeframe to $122 per share, we believe the same opportunity exists for Apple today. More recently, skeptics (including bullish Wall Street analysts) questioned our financial model’s forecast for robust growth, disclosed in a letter to Tim Cook on October 9, 2014 in which we again urged Apple to increase share repurchases. Since then, we have gained further confidence in our thesis, increasing the forecasted EPS for FY 2015 in our model from $9.60 to $9.70, and now believe the market should value Apple at $216 per share. This is why we continue to own approximately 53 million shares worth $6.5 billion, and why we have not sold a single share.
With respect to our increased EPS forecast of $9.70, we believe it’s important to note that we assume a 20% tax rate for the purpose of forecasting Apple’s real cash earnings, not the 26.2% “effective” tax rate used by Apple. We consider this an essential adjustment that many analysts and investors simply fail to understand. To further clarify, unlike many companies (including Google), Apple does not state that it plans to permanently reinvest international earnings. Because Apple does not state this, accounting rules require Apple on its income statement to accrue for an income tax on unremitted earnings, but it is a non-cash tax since Apple likely will not repatriate the international cash at today’s tax rate. Therefore, we believe the correct way to treat this non-cash tax for the purpose of valuation is to add it back to earnings, reflected in our EPS forecast. Since our previous letter, the consensus EPS (among the 31 analysts who have updated their EPS targets since January 28th) for FY2015 has dramatically increased to $8.59. Interestingly, if we make the same tax adjustment to this consensus EPS, the adjusted result is $9.31. So, while previously criticized by some of these analysts as being too aggressive, our updated EPS forecast of $9.70 is now only 39 cents above the tax adjusted consensus, and actually below several of the forecasts within that tax adjusted consensus.
When we compare Apple’s P/E ratio to that of the S&P 500 index on the same basis (but without any tax adjustment to the S&P 500 forecasted FY2015 EPS or P/E), we find that the market continues to value Apple at a significantly discounted multiple of only 10x, compared to 17x for the S&P 500:
We believe this P/E multiple discrepancy between Apple and the broad market index is totally irrational. It seems to us the market is somehow missing a very basic principle of valuation: when a company’s future earnings are expected to grow at a much faster rate than that of the S&P 500, the market should value that company at a higher P/E multiple. In FY 2016 and FY 2017 we forecast in our model EPS growth of over 20% per year, and if Apple introduces a TV in FY 2016 as we expect, this EPS growth accelerates to over 31% per year in our model. Because of this, we believe the market should value Apple at a P/E of at least 20x, which together with net cash of $22 per share, would value Apple shares today at $216 per share. This is not a future price target. $216 is what we think Apple is worth TODAY. Also, to the extent Apple introduces a TV in FY 2016 or FY 2017, we believe this 20x multiple is conservative.
Given that our estimated value for Apple (excluding the introduction of a television) represents an 84% price appreciation from where the common shares trade today, we continue to hope that Tim Cook and Apple’s Board of Directors, on behalf of all shareholders, take advantage of this dramatic market value anomaly and increase the magnitude and rate of share repurchases while this remarkable opportunity still exists.
It is now plainly obvious to us that there will be no stopping Apple’s peerless innovation track record and best-in-class ecosystem of services, software, and hardware, and that Apple will continue dominating the premium smartphone market by continuing to take premium market share from Google’s Android operating system (and Android-device manufacturers) while at the same time maintaining or growing average selling prices and gross margins. We look forward to the introduction of the Apple Watch in April, as well as the launch of other new products in new categories.
The updated forecast from model is included on the following pages.
Additionally, on October 9, 2014 we wrote a long letter to Tim Cook that expressed our thoughts on Apple in greater detail.
You can find that letter here:
Carl C. Icahn