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Apple cash plan buys CEO Cook time

Poornima Gupta and Ben Berkowitz (Reuters via AFR) | April 25, 2013
Tim Cook wants investors to "think different" about Apple: less as a hyper-growth startup-like company and more as a mature but robust technology corporation with the world's biggest dividend.

But on Tuesday, Cook made the rare admission to analysts on a conference call that Apple's growth has slowed and margins have decreased.

Apple is a mature company that's now trying to get everyone to see it as one, analysts say.

"They are modulating into a state where the highs are not as high and lows are not so low," Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps said.

Apple shares moved 5 per cent higher Tuesday on the back of the capital program, though the gains evaporated later.

Any gains would have come as little consolation to investors who have watched Apple shed more than $US280 billion in market value in the last few months as investors adjusted to a new, slower-growth reality.

Roger Kay, president of researcher and consultant Endpoint Technologies Associates said the expanded share repurchase and dividend scheme would keep investors satisfied for a while.

In the longer term, Apple needs another blockbuster gadget to accelerate its momentum and win investors back for the longer term. Cook tried on Tuesday to drum up enthusiasm around the product pipeline by teasing that "some really great stuff," potentially in new product categories, was coming in the fall and in 2014.

"They need something that breaks into new verticals, whether it's TV or something that's wearable, that opens up a new revenue stream," Epps said.

RESETTING THE SCALE

That remains among the most pertinent concerns for Apple-watchers. Since Cook took over in 2011 from late co-founder Steve Jobs, some investors have questioned whether Apple can continue to up-end technology markets with new revolutionary products that appeal to consumers in the absence of the tech icon.

Cook has in the past year presided over three straight quarters of missed revenue expectations before the January-to-March period. The key product introduced during his tenure is the smaller iPad mini, a response to tablets such as Amazon.com Inc's Kindle that were making inroads on its home turf.

The public takes as a given that a new iPhone and new iPads will come this year, along with refreshed Mac computers and iPod music players. But the speculation is that Apple is also working on a watch, a television and a radio service, among other products in the pipeline.

Cook would not provide any more details on new products, no surprise given the company's penchant for secrecy.

Some investors remain confident the Apple magic remains.

"The bar has been reset in terms of expectations and guidance. They have done the right thing by issuing debt and doing a large buyback," said Jason Jones, who runs tech hedge fund firm HighStep Capital and confessed to being an Apple bull.

"The company will go through this quiet period for product release and then, starting in the summer and for the remainder of the year, product announcements will pick up and likely the stock will react favorably to that."

 

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