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It's one thing to be optimistic about a stock, but activist investor Carl Icahn's letter to Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook tries to make the case that Apple stock is worth double its current price today.
The letter, released today (Thursday) following a teaser tweet the night before, is Icahn's second push to get Apple to use a major portion of its $133 billion in cash for stock buybacks.
The previous campaign started in the summer of 2013 and ended in February with Icahn losing a proxy fight. Icahn lost that battle but won the war, as Apple ended up implementing the stock buybacks and dividend increases that Icahn wanted, though in smaller amounts.
As part of his new push, Icahn says AAPL stock is actually worth $203 a share, and so any buyback would be a bargain.
An AAPL stock price of $203 would put the Cupertino, Calif., company's market cap just under $1.2 trillion, an amazing figure that would make Apple worth 6% of the Standard & Poor's 500.
To be sure, Apple stock has the potential to go a lot higher over the next few years. We think it has a good shot at hitting $167 a share for a $1 trillion valuation – but not until 2018 at the earliest, and even then only if Cook keeps his foot on the accelerator.
Even the most optimistic one-year price target among the analysts that follow AAPL is $139 a share.
Icahn must know how far-fetched his valuation is, so why put it out there?
Make no mistake, Icahn's ultimate goal is to walk away from AAPL with wheelbarrows of cash.
He's just tweaking his playbook this time…
What Carl Icahn Wants His Letter to Apple to Achieve
Typically, Icahn aggressively criticizes the leadership of the company – the CEO and his executive team, and often the board as well.
This letter is almost the anti-Icahn. It offers no criticism or advice. Instead, Icahn goes out of his way to heap praise on Cook and his team. It's almost fawning in some places.
As for the usual push for a specific action, such as dividend increases, stock buybacks, or spin-offs, we get only a call for still more stock buybacks.
More stock buybacks at this stage won't do much for the Apple stock price, and Icahn knows it.
No, the real point of the Carl Icahn letter to Tim Cook is to use the Icahn star power to promote the idea that AAPL stock is severely undervalued in the most visible way possible.
Look at how he handled this…