Cook reassures Apple investors over stock

CREATIVE SPARK::Despite frustration over its sagging stock price, Cook was re-elected to Apple’s board and promised the firm would work to make up lost ground

AP, CUPERTINO, California

Fri, Mar 01, 2013 - Page 15

Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook sought to reassure shareholders worried about the company’s sagging stock price that it is on the verge of inventing more breakthrough products that will prove it has not lost its creative edge.

“The company is working as hard as ever, and we have some great stuff coming,” Cook told shareholders on Wednesday during Apple Inc’s annual meeting at its Cupertino, California, headquarters.

True to Apple’s secretive nature, Cook did not provide any further product details, although at one point he said the company is considering entering other categories besides its popular line of digital music players, smartphones and tablet computers.

There has been speculation that Apple is working on an Internet-connected watch or TV that will be introduced later this year. One shareholder at Wednesday’s meeting threw a new idea for Apple to ponder — a computerized bicycle. Cook, an avid bicyclist, chuckled at the suggestion, along with the rest of the audience.

Although there were more moments of levity, Wednesday’s meeting was less celebratory than the events in past years, when Apple’s stock price was soaring to the delight of its shareholders.

Since hitting an all-time high of US$705.07 in September last year, Apple’s stock has plunged by 37 percent. The decline has wiped out collective shareholder wealth totaling US$240 billion.

That amount exceeds the total market value of Microsoft Corp, which reigned as the most influential company in personal computing until Apple ushered in an era of mobile devices.

Cook, who became chief executive officer shortly before Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died in October 2011, has a huge incentive to get the company’s stock price strong again.

The 1.1 million Apple shares he owns are worth about US$300 million less than they were last year.

Although Apple is selling more gadgets than ever before, the company’s profits and sales are not growing as robustly because of fiercer competition from a multitude of other smartphones and tablet computers. Apple’s biggest headaches have been caused by Android, a mobile operating system that Google Inc supplies to a long list of device makers led by Samsung Electronics Co.

There are now an estimated 600 million devices running on Android, giving it a lead over Apple.

Cook said Apple remains more interested in the quality of its products than the quantity sold.

“We want to make the best,” Cook said. “That’s why we are here.”

Cook’s pep talk evidently did not inspire many investors. Apple’s stock shed another US$4.40 to close on Wednesday at US$444.57.

Shareholders still affirmed their confidence in Cook at the meeting. Preliminary results showed Cook was re-elected to Apple’s eight-member board of directors with 99 percent of the vote.

Wall Street may have been disappointed that Cook did not provide any further clarity on whether Apple might distribute some of its US$137 billion in cash to shareholders in the form of a dividend increase or a special one-time payment.