Even Tim Cook's harshest critics have been quick to salute the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO for the leadership he exhibited this week in Washington. Throughout the tax hearing Cook came across as the smartest in the room; his resolve was unshaken and his toughness was even applauded by Senator John McCain. For a guy who has been persecuted by media types since Apple's stock selloff began last September, these glowing reviews are unexpected. Is Tim Cook finally on the verge of a breakout? Perhaps the timing is right for Cook to establish his own legacy as CEO of Apple. Judging by Apple's stock action, this sea change in Tim Cook sentiment appears correlated to three particular dates:
April 23rd: A bolder than expected stock buyback was announced by Cook, a move that set in motion an EPS acceleration for Apple's quarterly earnings. If Apple continues this buyback program over the next ten years the company will reduce its total float by more than half. Even hedge fund managers like David Einhorn were impressed with the move. Cook's decision made Apple stock attractive to value and income funds who otherwise would have passed on the growth story.
May 21st: In his Q&A with Congress, Tim Cook demonstrated a poise under pressure that was noticed by all who watched the hearing. As his chief accountant Phillip Bullock sputtered under questioning, Cook was able to articulate the nuances of Apple's international tax situation in a way that put him in the driver's seat in regards to the tax debate. Instead of Apple under fire, it turned into Congress under fire for its complex and seemingly unfair tax code that puts Apple and its tech peers at a disadvantage compared with international competitors like Samsung. The tax investigation is now behind Apple.
June 10th: In his keynote address at Apple World Wide Developers Conference Tim Cook will have the opportunity to deliver some exciting software innovations that should result in new hardware for the fall. Supply chain reports suggest multiple models of the iPhone will be introduced. If the low end model becomes available on China Mobile and the high end model supports fingerprint security for iWallet, Cook will have reinvigorated the iPhone segment of Apple's business and the stock should have a nice second half run. If an iTV App Store is introduced in addition to the multiple iPhone models, the stock should be able to reclaim its prior highs.
In the midst of this recent Fed-induced market hoopla, Apple seems to be emerging as the market's leader for the first time since September. Over the last six trading days Google is -$33 and Apple is +$25. A continued rally rests squarely on the shoulders of Tim Cook. If he can win the positive sentiment of Wall Street through effective leadership, this stock will roar. June 10th gives Cook the opportunity for a perfect trifecta on top of his cash strategy and Washington performance. If your looking for more evidence of Cook's strong leadership, consider his controversial replacement of Scott Forstall as head of iOS and his decision to release the iPad mini. Both decisions look like positives for the company now that Jony Ive is in charge of iOS and the mini represents Apple's fastest growing growth segment. Confidence in a CEO is of paramount importance. We witnessed it with Steve Jobs. We've seen it recently with Elon Musk and the rapid stock moves of Tesla and SolarCity. We may experience it in the months to come with Tim Cook.