Apple's Earnings Bite

Apple Inc. said Wednesday its profit in the holiday quarter edged up 2 percent and beat Wall Street's expectations, buoyed in part by growing iPod sales outside the U.S.

The iPod and iPhone maker's predictions for the current quarter came in lower than analysts were predicting, but investors seemed happy to focus on the results rather than the forecast. In extended trading after the report was released, Apple's shares jumped $9.83, or 12 percent, to $92.66.

The first question for executives in a conference call regarded the health of Chief Executive Steve Jobs, who announced a week ago that he would take a six-month medical leave.

Apple gave no new details, but Tim Cook, the chief operating officer who is handling day-to-day operations in Jobs' absence, attempted to assure analysts that Apple will continue to do well no matter who's in charge.

"The values of our company are extremely well entrenched," Cook said. "We believe that we're on the face of the Earth to make great products, and that's not changing."

There is also news out Wednesday that the SEC also wants to know more about Steve Jobs health and may investigate.  Read ValleyWag report here.

In the fiscal first quarter that ended Dec. 27, Apple's earnings rose to $1.61 billion, or $1.78 per share. In the comparable period last year, profit was $1.58 billion, or $1.76 per share.

Sales improved 6 percent to $10.2 billion.

The results topped analysts' forecast on both counts. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters were looking for a profit of $1.39 per share on $9.75 billion in sales.

Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple said it sold a record number of iPods in the quarter -- about 22.7 million, beating analysts' average expectations. In the conference call, Cook said all the growth in iPod sales came from outside the U.S. during the last week of the quarter.

Macintosh computer sales grew 9 percent from the year-ago quarter and met analysts' view.

Sales of Apple's iPhone clocked in at 4.4 million, shy of analysts' predictions for about 5 million.

The recession made the holiday quarter the worst for the PC market in years. But it didn't seem to hit Apple quite as hard. At Apple's retail stores, which are concentrated in the U.S., average sales per store dropped to $7 million from $8.5 million last year.

Looking ahead, Apple said it expects to earn 90 cents to $1 per share on $7.6 billion to $8 billion in sales in the current quarter, which ends in March. Analysts had been looking for Apple to earn $1.13 per share on $8.2 billion in revenue.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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