One of the more remarkable things about Apple’s record debt sale on April 30 was that $3 billion of it came in the form of 30-year bonds. That’s a common duration in such sectors as financials and health care—but not so much in technology, where fortunes are made and destroyed by the constant churn of innovation.
Just think of all the things that the last 30 years have brought. The Macintosh. Windows. The Internet. Google. The iPhone and iPad. The rise, fall, rise, and fall of Apple itself. Now try to envision what might change in the tech industry between now and 2043—the same year that Ali Lohan, younger sister of Lindsay, becomes eligible for membership in AARP. (Also, try to envision how investors will feel about having lent to Apple at a rate just 1 percentage point higher than virtually riskless U.S. Treasuries.)
For some context, here’s a sampling of tech-related 30-year bonds that were issued 30-ish years ago:
Issued: April 3, 1986
Which is the same month as: the Chernobyl nuclear disaster
Maturity: April 15, 2011
How’d that work out?: REI, which made optical character recognition technology, lost a big U.S. Postal Service envelope-scanning contract, and its chief executive was indicted. (The charges were dismissed.) “After the scandal, corporate raiders took over and sold” the company, according to D magazine. The bond was called in 1997.
Issued: July 1, 1986
Which is the same month as: the first video footage of the Titanic wreckage is shot
Maturity: June 15, 2011
How’d that work out? The electronics retailer, with its iconic advertising (“his prices are insaaaaaaaane”), declared bankruptcy in 1989. Founder Eddie Antar served hard time for fraud.
Issued: March 5, 1987
Which is the same month as: U2 releases The Joshua Tree
Maturity: March 1, 2012
How’d that work out: The hard disk-drive manufacturer nearly went bankrupt in 1992, then was acquired by Seagate in 2006. The bond was called in 2010.
Issued: July 5, 1988
Which is the same month as: Michael Dukakis is nominated for president
Maturity: July 1, 2018
How’d that work out? The company defaulted on the bond; the film pioneer filed for bankruptcy in January 2012.
Issued: Nov. 8, 1989
Which is the same month as: The Berlin Wall falls
Maturity: Nov. 1, 2019
How’d that work out? Still trading! IBM has shifted from the mainframe market to personal computers to its current focus on enterprise services.
Rummaging through the mid-1980s tech-bond archives also turns up such companies as Daisy Systems (an early leader in computer-aided engineering), Cadnetix (which merged with Daisy, then went bankrupt), Computervision, Scantron, Apollo Computer, and Atari. Of course, not just technology companies die or are subsumed over time: Among the other names that jump out from the filings are the bond runners, notably Bear Stearns and Salomon Brothers.