Wall Street didn't complain much about Apple's hoarding policies until its revenue growth started slowing. In the recent holiday quarter, Apple's revenue rose 18 percent from a year ago - a very good figure for a company of its size, but a far cry from the 50 percent-plus increases it has often posted since the 2007 launch of the first iPhone. Apple hasn't launched a new ground-breaking product since the iPad in 2010, so the company is forced to expand the appeal of its current products to achieve growth.
The slowing growth has scared away investors who focus on fast-growing companies, and the relatively small dividend means the company doesn't get much respect from investors who look for regular income, analysts say.
Greenlight, a shareholder since 2010 with 1.3 million Apple shares worth nearly $600 million, wants Apple to create a class of preferred stock that carries a higher dividend, and give it away to current shareholders. That way, he believes the company would appeal to value investors and those who are risk-averse.
Einhorn said his firm has been talking to Apple over the past several months about the creation of the new share class. Apple, he said, rejected the idea in September. The company doesn't currently issue preferred stock. At its annual meeting on Feb. 27, it plans to ask shareholders to remove the option to do so.
Apple said in its proxy statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission that its board does not plan to issue preferred stock in the future and believes it is "appropriate" to eliminate the possibility from its charter. If the proposal passes, the board will have to go through shareholders to get approval for future issuances of preferred stock.
A representative for Apple did not respond to a request for comment.
Greenlight urges Apple shareholders to vote against the proposal. In the lawsuit, it claims that the proposal bundles three distinct proposals that the SEC requires to be separated so shareholders can vote on each one.
Apple has at least one major shareholder on its side. The California Public Employees' Retirement System, the country's largest pension fund, said in an SEC filing Monday that it will vote for Apple's proposal. CalPERS owns 2.7 million Apple shares, nearly three times as many as Greenlight.