Apple (AAPL) shareholders, who have enjoyed quite a ride over the past few years, were rattled recently when the tech giant announced that its legendary CEO Steve Jobs will be taking another medical leave of absence. This news hit Wall Street about two years after Mr. Jobs, who recovered from pancreatic cancer in 2004 and received a liver transplant in 2009, took his first medical leave. Taking over Apple’s day-to-day operations is Tim Cook, the company’s chief operations officer.
Only days following the announcement, however, Apple provided some solace for investors when it reported results for the fiscal 2011 first quarter (ended December 25, 2010). Indeed, in the December period, share earnings came in at $6.43, well ahead of our estimate and 75% above the year-earlier tally. The upside was primarily attributable to better-than-expected gross margins (favorable component prices were a major plus) and brisk sales of the new iPad tablet PC. Also, the company continued to gain ground in the traditional computing space, with Mac shipments climbing more than 20% on a year-over-year basis. And investments overseas started to yield greater benefits, as evidenced by a whopping 400% sales increase in the important Chinese market.
This record showing could not have come at a better time, it seems, as the news of Mr. Jobs’ leave weighed on Apple shares earlier in the week. He is largely the face of the franchise and, much like in 2009 when he took a leave, shareholders’ concerns resurfaced following his announced departure this time around. Investors appear well aware of the importance Mr. Jobs’ vision is to the company’s success. And one thing that was lacking from the recent earnings release was further clarity into Mr. Jobs’ health. Specifically, no timetable has been given for his return, and Mr. Jobs appears to be retaining his CEO title for now, as no interim was named.
Despite this uncertainty, the stock has started to regain some momentum following the strong first-quarter earnings report. Although shares are still trading a few dollars off the high heading into this week, the issue has recouped some of the losses that occurred immediately following Mr. Jobs’ announcement.
At the time of this article’s writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.