Icahn, Einhorn Pared Back Apple Stakes Before 2016 Decline Began

Investor Carl Icahn and Greenlight Capital, the hedge fund led by David Einhorn, cut their stakes in Apple Inc. in the last three months of 2015, just before the company’s shares started to slide this year on concerns that the smartphone market is becoming saturated and that China will no longer fuel sales growth.

The latest filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission don’t reflect any changes to Apple holdings since the start of the year. Apple shares have declined 8.2 percent so far this year amid a global equity selloff that has been marked by falling valuations in technology stocks.

Both investors, who still retained the bulk of their holdings in Apple, sold before Apple briefly ceded its position this month as the world’s most valuable listed company, to Google parent Alphabet Inc. Last month, Apple also issued a forecast that predicted a sales decline for the first time in more than a decade.

Icahn first disclosed his Apple stake in August 2013, and pushed Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook to return more of the company’s ballooning cash pile to investors. The iPhone maker stepped up its share buybacks and increased dividends, helping to fuel a 38 percent share rally in 2014. That petered out in 2015, when Apple shares declined 4.6 percent.

Icahn sold 7 million Apple shares in the fourth quarter, leaving him with 45.8 million shares worth $4.8 billion. Greenlight Capital cut its stake by 44 percent to 6.3 million shares worth $661.5 million as of Dec. 31, according to a regulatory filing Tuesday. Vanguard Group Inc. and Northern Trust Corp. were also among the institutional investors that reduced Apple holdings in their portfolios.

Still, other investors saw a buying opportunity in Apple shares. Tiger Global added shares in the iPhone maker worth $1.1 billion at year-end, according to the filing. Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Bank of America Corp. and T. Rowe Price Group Inc. were also among the major investors who added Apple shares during the reporting period.

Still, in the debt market, Apple didn’t seem to have any trouble attracting investors. On Tuesday, Apple sold $12 billion of bonds in the second-biggest bond sale of the year. The Cupertino, California-based company has been selling multibillion bond offerings since 2013 to pay for its return of cash to shareholders, instead of repatriating money held overseas that would be subject to taxation when brought back home.

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