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Apple's profit up 26 percent on iPhone boom

Posted 10/21/08 - Booming sales of the newest iPhone led Apple to a stellar fiscal fourth-quarter report, defying predictions that the tumultuous U.S. economy would hold the company back.

Despite the blockbuster performance, which sent Apple's shares soaring in after-hours trading, the company issued what it called "prudent" predictions for the current quarter, because of broader economic uncertainty.

Seeking to quash fears that a spending slowdown could reverse Apple's course, Chief Executive Steve Jobs told analysts on a conference call Tuesday that the company's customers are more likely to put off buying a new Mac than to defect to PCs with lower prices.

"We may get buffeted around by the waves a little bit, but we'll be fine," Jobs said. In the event of a downturn, Apple could use some of the $25 billion in its coffers to develop the next lust-worthy gadget.

After the closing bell Tuesday, Apple Inc. said its profit jumped 26 percent as the iPhone 3G outsold the market-leading BlackBerry from Research in Motion Ltd.

For the three months ended Sept. 27, Apple's profit climbed to $1.14 billion, or $1.26 per share, from $904 million, or $1.01 per share in the same period last year.

Sales jumped 27 percent to $7.9 billion from $6.22 billion in the year-ago quarter.

Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple's profit topped Wall Street's expectations, but sales missed. Analysts had expected the company to sell $8 billion worth of Macintosh computers, iPods, iPhones and other gadgets, for a profit of $1.11 per share, according to a Thomson Reuters poll.

Apple sold a staggering 6.9 million iPhone 3Gs in the quarter, more than the 6.1 million total first-generation iPhones sold. The iPhone launched July 11 and is available in more than 50 countries.

Research in Motion reported it sold 6.1 million BlackBerry smart phones in the quarter that ended Aug. 30.

Edward Jones analyst Bill Kreher said overtaking RIM in such short order was a "jaw-dropping" accomplishment.

Apple also set quarterly records for Macintosh and iPod sales. Apple said it sold 2.6 million Macs and 11.1 million iPods, further allaying fears that the sluggish economy would weigh on Apple's back-to-school sales.

Records notwithstanding, the Mac division dragged Apple's revenue below the Street view. The company said Mac sales growth took a hit as educational institutions cut back on computer purchases.

For the current quarter, which ends in December, Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer gave a wide range he described as "prudent," saying Apple expects to earn $1.06 to $1.35 per share on sales from $9 billion to $10 billion. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had been expecting a profit of $1.65 per share on sales of $10.57 billion.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, speaking in an interview, called the guidance Apple issued "comical," saying it calls for results that are flat from a year ago and ignores the explosive iPhone 3G debut. "It's mathematically almost impossible," he said.

Shares of Apple fell $6.95, or 7.1 percent, to close at $91.49. In extended trading after the earnings report, the stock leapt $13, or 14.2 percent, to $104.49.

For the full fiscal year, Apple's profit climbed 38 percent to $4.83 billion, or $5.36 per share. Revenue increased 35 percent to $32.5 billion.

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