Apple Computer Inc. reported on Wednesday fiscal fourth-quarter operating earnings that topped the level of the previous quarter as the computer maker delivered on its own profit target in the face of slow consumer spending and lower sales.

Cupertino, California-based Apple reported fourth-quarter operating earnings of $65 million, or 18 cents per share after $108 million or 30 cents per diluted share in the year-earlier quarter. Sales for the period ending in September dropped to $1.45 billion from $1.87 billion.

Analysts polled by Thomson Financial/First Call had expected Apple, one of the few personal computer makers that has not warned about its results in recent weeks, would report earnings of 6 cents to 20 cents per share. The consensus was a profit of 16 cents per share on sales of $1.48 billion.

The company had targeted a slight increase from third-quarter earnings of 17 cents per share and sales of $1.475 billion.

Apple shares have risen about 21 percent so far this year, putting it in a select group of technology stocks that have risen in that period. Even so, Apple has underperformed No. 1 personal computer maker Dell Computer Corp by about 10 percent.

Shares in Apple closed at $16.99 on Nasdaq on Wednesday, a loss of almost 6 percent, or $1.02 on the day.