Apple Beats Expectations for Busy Holiday Quarter

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Apple beat expectations with its financial results for the holiday shopping quarter, a period that treated many consumer electronics companies badly.

The earnings report Wednesday comes as Apple faces scrutiny over last week's announcement that CEO Steve Jobs would take a leave of absence for health reasons. Reporters and analysts were hoping for more clues about his condition during the earnings conference call this afternoon.

Net profit for Apple's fiscal first quarter that ended Dec. 27 reached US$1.61 billion, or $1.78 per share, Apple said. Analysts polled by Thompson Reuters had expected net income of $1.27 billion and earnings per share of $1.39.

The earnings are up just barely from the same quarter last year, when Apple reported a profit of $1.58 billion and earnings per share of $1.76.

Revenue was $10.17 billion, compared with $9.6 billion last year.

Apple sold 2.5 million Macintosh computers during the quarter, up 9 percent over last year. IPod sales growth has slowed, though, with 22.7 million sold in the quarter, up just 3 percent.

But iPhone sales continue to grow rapidly. Apple sold 4.4 million of the devices, representing 88 percent growth over the same quarter in 2008.

Apple said it expects continued success despite the ailing economy. For its second quarter of fiscal 2009, Apple expects revenue between $7.6 billion and $8 billion and earnings per share of $.90 to $1.00.

A week ago Jobs disclosed in a letter to employees that health issues required him to take a leave of absence until the end of June. The announcement came a little over a week after he revealed that his gaunt appearance lately, which has been the subject of much speculation, had been caused by a hormone imbalance.

When announcing his leave, Jobs declined to reveal further details about his condition except to say that it was more complex than he originally thought. The setback follows surgery he underwent in 2004 for pancreatic cancer.

Apple's share price tends to rise and fall based on rumors regarding Jobs' health. While many companies have charismatic leaders, Jobs is thought to control even minor decisions at Apple, the company he co-founded in the 1970s and brought back to life after returning to it in the mid-1990s.

"Unfortunately, the curiosity over my personal health continues to be a distraction not only for me and my family, but everyone else at Apple as well," Jobs wrote in his letter to employees last week. "In order to take myself out of the limelight and focus on my health ... I have decided to take a medical leave of absence until the end of June."

The questions about Jobs's health and its impact on Apple's stock price may have drawn the attention of regulators at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The commission is examining Apple's statements about Jobs's health to determine whether the company misled investors, according to a Bloomberg story published on Wednesday citing unnamed sources. The SEC declined to comment on the report.

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