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Apple CEO calls investor’s suit over cash a sideshow

Apple has come under fire for not distributing more of its massive cash hoard with investors. Above, a man in front of an Apple store in Shanghai.

Aly Song/Reuters/File 2012

Apple has come under fire for not distributing more of its massive cash hoard with investors. Above, a man in front of an Apple store in Shanghai.

CUPERTINO, Calif. — Tim Cook, Apple Inc.’s chief executive, is calling a shareholder lawsuit against the company a ‘‘silly sideshow,’’ even as he says he is open to looking at the shareholder’s proposals for sharing more cash with investors.

David Einhorn sued Apple last week, saying a proposal due for a vote at the annual meeting in two weeks will make it more difficult to enact his plan to reward shareholders by distributing a new class of shares.

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Cook said Apple’s proposal would put more power in the hands of shareholders, making it hard to understand why a shareholder would fight it. Calling the fight a waste of time, Cook said Apple won’t waste money by sending mail to shareholders to persuade them to vote for the proposal.

Repeating previous statements, Cook also said the company is looking seriously at ways to hand out more cash to shareholders.

Investors appeared to be waiting for something more substantive from Cook. Apple’s stock fell $12.09, or 2.5 percent, to $467.84.

The stock market has hammered Apple’s stock since the launch in September of the iPhone­ 5. The company’s growth, which has been rapid for nearly a decade, is slowing drastically in the absence of another groundbreaking product. Wall Street is clamoring for Apple to share more of its cash, which amounted to $137 billion at the end of last year and is still growing fast because of the company’s massive profits.

Companies usually don’t sit on that much cash. They invest it in their business or give it to shareholders. Einhorn said Apple’s cash hoard is a symptom of a defensive ‘‘Depression-era­ mentality.’’

Cook rebutted that assertion Tuesday, saying the company invested $10 billion in its business last year, through spending on research and design, equipment, and an expansion of its chain of stores. It has also committed to handing out $45 billion to shareholders over three years, through dividends and share buybacks.

Analysts, however, point out that Apple seems to have run out of things to invest in, and the $45 billion commitment is small, compared with the company’s profits.

Goldman analyst Bill Shope asked Cook about other hot-button issues: whether Apple­ would make a cheaper phone and one with a larger screen, both of which rivals have been doing, using Google’s Android system. Cook was evasive, preferring to say Apple sells older iPhone models at a reduced price and that there’s more to the experience of a screen than its size.

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