Apple Will Gladly Pay You in 2043 for a Share Buyback Today

Would you buy a 30-year bond from this man?

Photo by KIMIHIRO HOSHINO/AFP/Getty Images

Apple’s filed with the SEC, noting its intention to issue fixed rate bonds with three-, five-, 10-, and 30-year durations. That means some people are expected to loan Apple money that won’t be repaid until 2043, which is an awfully long time in tech-company years.

On the other hand, owning long-dated debt in a tech company is on some level no more nonsensical than owning equity in one. The fact of the matter is that there’s no amount of research and insight that you can do in 2013 that will give you meaningful information about the likely health of Apple’s business in the late 2020s to say nothing of the mid-2040s. You can regard the idea of Apple’s 30-year bond issue as absurd if you like, but I don’t think it’s any more or less absurd than the rest of the basic infrastructure of modern financial capitalism. I don’t have much to say about this that Keynes didn’t say in Chapter 12 of the General Theory other than the observation that we’ve lived with this absurdity for a lot longer than I think Keynes would have thought possible.

The important thing to note about this is that it’s all part of a fairly elaborate plan to avoid paying U.S. corporate income tax. If we tried to tax executives and shareholders instead of taxing “the company” we might at least see fewer gymnastics of this sort.

Meanwhile, as a loyal user of Apple products I’m a little saddened to think of Tim Cook and company spending time thinking about bond spreads and dividend yields rather than bringing a Retina iPad Mini to market as soon as possible or improving iCloud.