* Investors seek more info on Jobs' medical leave
* Quarterly sales expected to surge 50 pct over year ago
* iPhone, iPad to show strong holiday shopping season
* Wall Street sees earnings of $5.40/shr, sales at $24.4 bln
By Gabriel Madway
SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 18 Apple Inc is set
to report a stunning 50 percent jump in quarterly sales on
Tuesday, as its iPhone and iPad excited holiday shoppers, but
the consumer electronics powerhouse may face more pressing
questions about the health of iconic chief executive Steve Jobs.
The world's most valuable technology company announced on
Monday that Jobs would take a medical leave of absence without
specifying a return date or detailing Jobs' condition, leaving
investors in an information vacuum.
The surprise announcement -- made on a U.S. market holiday
-- dragged Apple shares down more than 6 percent in European
trading. They are up 62 percent in the past 12 months on the
Nasdaq stock exchange.
"Steve Jobs is seen by the market to be a major force in
Apple's strategic direction," said Richard Windsor, global
technology specialist at Nomura. "If his pancreatic cancer has
returned, one could be quite worried."
Jobs' latest leave comes nearly two years after he took a
six-month break to undergo a liver transplant. He also took time
off after pancreatic surgery in 2004.
Apple has not dwelt on Jobs' health, and Jobs himself asked
for respect for his privacy in a memo to employees made public
In Jobs' absence, it will be up to chief operating officer
Tim Cook to decide how much to tell investors about the absent
chief executive, and what Apple plans to do with its $50
billion-plus pile of cash and investments.
Less of a showman than Jobs, the 50-year old Alabama native
is not expected to make any grand pronouncements. But he is
regarded as a safe pair of hands for the company, having stood
in for Jobs successfully twice before.
In Asia, tech shares gained, helped by hopes of a recovery
in chip prices and expectations that nimble firms may slow the
runaway success of Apple after the news that Jobs would take
Still, analysts said the impact on Apple's operations and
its Asian rivals and partners should be limited in the
short-term given a strong product line-up.
"Apple's roadmap is all set and its iPhone 5 is ready to
go, leaving little room for competitors to cut into its share,"
said Bonnie Chang, an analyst at Yuanta Securities in Taipei.
HUGE HOLIDAY SEASON
Aside from Jobs' health, the company is entering 2011 on a
roll, a cash-generating machine with surging sales across its
product lines, even as it confronts rivals determined to halt
its stunning run of success.
Wall Street is expecting Apple's quarterly revenue to swell
more than 50 percent to more than $24 billion after a bumper
holiday shopping season. That would be a sparkling performance
for a company of any size, much less one with a market value
above $300 billion.
Apple's advantages are well-documented: the global spread of
the iPhone, which is expected to sell more than 60 million units
this year; the rise of the iPad, which single-handedly created
the tablet computing market; and continued strong growth from
the resurgent Mac line of computers.
Wall Street's benchmarks for Apple's fiscal first quarter,
which includes the holiday shopping season, are sales of roughly
15.5 million iPhones, 5.5 million iPads and 4 million Mac
After the close of regular trading hours on Tuesday, Apple
is expected to report earnings of $5.40 a share on revenue of
$24.4 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
According to StarMine's SmartEstimate, which places more
weight on recent forecasts by top-rated analysts, Apple should
post EPS of $5.47 on revenue of $24.5 billion.
Even so, an out-sized surprise in Apple results has become
an article of faith among investors. The company has beaten Wall
Street's estimate by an average of 29 percent over the past two
years, and bested on revenue by 9 percent on average.
"The only surprise in earnings is if there is anything less
than glorious news," said Barry Jaruzelski, a partner at
consulting firm Booz & Co, last week.