Apple Sticks to Script for Shareholders

Cupertino, Calif. — Apple’s annual shareholders meeting came and went with none of the fireworks expected during the long and messy buildup to the event, as the tech giant’s executives and investors calmly checked off the necessary tasks and discussed topics such as the company’s new headquarters and Apple Store bathrooms.

After a dramatic plunge in the stock price and calls from a high-profile investor for Apple to share its wealth of cash, attention was fixated on the event at Apple’s headquarters Wednesday morning. But after votes on the business at hand- re-electing the board of directors, a process that showed shareholders have a 99.1 percent approval rate of CEO Tim Cook, along with four other agenda items — very little of substance occurred.

Cook’s speech to the crowd closely mirrored his talk at a technology conference in San Francisco earlier this month, and his question-and-answer session at the end of the meeting turned up only the nugget that the opening of the company’s new, spaceship-style headquarters has been pushed back by a year, with completion now expected in 2016.

The run-up to this year’s annual shareholder event has caused even more speculation and hubbub than usual, with Apple’s share price more than 30 percent below record highs set in July of 2012 and activist investors making waves.

Hedge fund operator David Einhorn successfully sued Apple over its plans to change its articles of incorporation dealing with preferred stock, with a federal judge issuing a temporary injunction last week that forced Apple to pull an expected vote on the issue. Just a day before the event, a different hedge-fund figure tweeted that Apple was planning to split its stock, causing a new wave of conjecture. Einhorn dropped the suit on Friday.

Cook called Einhorn’s suit a “silly sideshow” in that speech, and reiterated that thought Wednesday when an investor asked if he still believed the lawsuit was silly after Einhorn’s courtroom success.

“I strongly believe it was a silly sideshow, regardless of how the judge ruled,” Cook said. But he later added, “I don’t think the issue of returning cash to shareholders is silly — we’re seriously considering it.”

Einhorn did not attend the event, and Cook said Apple expects to revive its attempt to force a shareholder vote on any issuance of preferred stock at a later date.

Other questions ranged from rote to banal, including one investor’s complaint that an Apple Store in Santa Monica, Calif., needed a bathroom.

In response to a question about the company’s flagging share price, Cook admitted that he didn’t like that the stock was falling, and neither did the board and other executives, but said, “We’re focused on the long term.”

Despite the buildup, the crowd awaiting entry to the 9 a.m. meeting Wednesday seemed smaller than 2012.