Apple's world-beating financial engineering is teaching the corporate world how to exploit Trump's tax cuts

After Trump's tax-cuts and forgiveness program, Apple repatriated $260 billion it had stashed in offshore tax havens (or, more truthfully, had funneled through offshore tax-havens to buy onshore financial products that were notionally held offshore); this made Apple the leading beneficiary of the Trump tax forgiveness program.

Apple used that money to continue its streak of record-setting stock buybacks, with which the company gooses its share price and allows investors to cash out, diverting money from worker compensation and R&D to financial engineering.

Apple's stock-buybacks are so aggressive that they have lured in Berkshire Hathaway, famous for "patient investing" — Apple CEO Tim Cook initially touted this as vindication that the company still had the confidence of "value investors," until Berkshire CEO Warren Buffet clarified that his stake in Apple was based on the expectation that the company would continue to use financial engineering to reward investors who brought nothing to the table except the ability to move share prices.

Cook has since suggested that the buybacks will create public value because of the capital gains that Apple investors will pay when they cash out — but of course, Trump's tax cuts offer massively preferential tax rates for people who earn money through capital gains, shifting the US tax burden onto waged workers who earn their money by making things that other people use.

Just after the announcement in May 2018 that Buffett had purchased an additional 74 million Apple shares, interviewer David Rubenstein asked Apple CEO Tim Cook: "Are you pleased to have him as your shareholder?" Cook responded: "I'm overjoyed. I'm thrilled. Warren is focused on the long term, so we're in sync. It's the way we run the company. It's the way he invests. So, yeah, I could not be happier."

Rubenstein then asked Cook what Apple planned to do with its $260 billion in cash, most of it newly repatriated from offshore tax havens under tax incentives provided by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Cook's answer: "We're going to create a new site, a new campus within the United States. We're going to hire 20,000 people. We're going to spend $30 billion in capital expenditure over the next several years. Number one, we're investing, and investing a ton, in this country. We're also going to buy some of our stock, as we view our stock as a good value."

With Apple repurchasing $73 billion in fiscal 2018 at record stock prices, Cook's statement that Apple was going to buy "some stock" at "a good value" was clearly disingenuous. Perhaps that is why the Apple CEO followed with a feeble attempt to justify Apple's stock buybacks, telling Rubenstein that Apple's repurchases were "good for the economy as well because if people sell stock they pay taxes on their gains." Given the enormous tax breaks that corporations and the richest households have received under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Cook's ludicrous defense of Apple's repurchases is in effect an admission that Apple's stock buybacks are indefensible.

​Apple's "Capital Return Program": Where are the patient capitalists? [William Lazonick/Institute for New Economic Thinking]

(via Naked Capitalism)