Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pricing the Unknown in Apple

By Eric Jackson
RealMoney Contributor

1/20/2011 5:00 PM EST
Click here for more stories by Eric Jackson

Since the announcement on Monday of Steve Jobs' medical leave of absence from Apple (AAPL -commentary - Trade Now), there has been intense speculation as to what the short- and long-term implications will be with respect to the company's stock price.

On one side, it's clear that Apple and Jobs want to disclose a minimal amount of details when it comes to the CEO's medical prognosis. This was also the case during the two prior leaves of absence Jobs took. It was only after Jobs returned to work that Apple disclosed he had had a liver transplant and that he has a rare form of cancer.

On the other side, you have many investors -- including several who pride themselves on good corporate governance -- that are angry because the company is not disclosing more information. This group wants more details on Jobs' condition and insight into the company's succession plan.

As a guy who likes to think of himself as pro good governance, I don't really have strong feelings on this one. Apple has consulted with its lawyers around this issue since early last decade. From those discussions, the company came to the conclusion that the SEC doesn't have firm ground to stand on with respect to forcing Apple to disclose any more than it already has. But, even if that is true, is it still the right decision not to disclose more?

I guess the question is what more can the company disclose? Jobs is obviously sick and in need of more treatment. Will sharing the specifics help? Although my governance friends will say yes, I just don't believe that to be the case. No one knows whether treatment will work at this point.

As far as the succession planning issue, part of the reason the stock has behaved well since Monday is because the market has confidence in Tim Cook, the COO, based on his previous stints at the helm when Jobs has been away and his continued steady performance with the financial community since then. It's true that some investors would have liked the company's board to come out and declare a plan in waiting just in case Jobs was hit by a truck one day. But how many companies do that? None that I can think of.


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