SAN JOSE, Calif. – With the iPod juggernaut still soaring, Apple Inc. (AAPL) reaped record profits during the holiday quarter and stands to remain a Wall Street darling despite issuing a second-quarter forecast that fell below analyst expectations.
"Their guidance is always conservative," Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said. "It's a bunch of hoo-ha."
Apple didn't disappoint during its last quarter and easily topped analyst targets.
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For the final three months of 2006, profits surged 78 percent after the company sold a record 21 million iPod players, or about 50 percent more than it did in the same period the year before.
That's an iPod sold for nearly every person in Texas. Sales of the iconic device accounted for $3.43 billion, or nearly half, of the company's total revenue for the quarter.
Apple also shipped 1.6 million Macintosh computers, up 28 percent from the year-ago holiday season.
The Mac sales growth rate was more than triple that of the overall PC industry for the period, according to market research firm IDC.
Apple's share of the PC market in the U.S. also grew to 4.7 percent in the quarter, up from 3.6 percent a year ago, IDC said.
"Apple is clearly at the top of its game right now," said analyst Samir Bhavnani at Current Analysis.
During its fiscal first quarter ended Dec. 30, the Cupertino-based company said it earned $1 billion, or $1.14 per share, compared with $565 million, or 65 cents a share, a year earlier.
Revenue for the quarter hit a record, reaching $7.1 billion, up 24 percent from $5.7 billion the previous year.
Analysts, on average, were expecting earnings of 78 cents per share on sales of $6.42 billion, according to a Thomson Financial survey.
"This one was for the record books," Apple Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer said in an interview.
Shares of Apple lost $2.15 to close Wednesday at $94.95 on the Nasdaq Stock Market as technology stocks in general tumbled. In extended trading following its report, Apple shares initially jumped by about 4.5 percent, then declined by 1 percent to $94.
Looking ahead to its fiscal second quarter, Apple forecast revenue of $4.8 billion to $4.9 billion and earnings per share of 54 cents to 56 cents. Analysts were projecting revenues of $5.22 billion and earnings per share of 60 cents, according to Thomson.
Apple officials said the March quarter outlook partly stems from expectations of slightly lower gross margins and slower software sales ahead of the company's spring release of its upgrade to the Mac OS X operating system, dubbed Leopard.
Analysts took the company's guidance with a grain of salt.
"Last time they beat their own guidance by 16 percent," Munster said. "And it's undeniable now that they're running away with the digital music market."
Legal troubles for Apple are mounting, but Wall Street so far has largely shrugged off the impact.
Apple is one of the most prominent among dozens of companies facing federal scrutiny over its past accounting of stock options. It also has been sued by Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) over alleged trademark infringement for using the name iPhone for the new cell phone-iPod device it unveiled last week.
Apple's chief operating officer, Tim Cook, called the Cisco lawsuit "silly" during a conference call with analysts Wednesday and said Cisco's trademark registration was "tenuous at best."
"If Cisco wants to challenge us," Cook said, "we're confident we'll prevail."
Investors are optimistic about Apple's future as it reinvents itself as a maker of consumer electronics. The company even changed its name last week — from Apple Computer Inc. to just Apple Inc. — to better reflect its broadening portfolio beyond computer products.
After Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs introduced the long-anticipated iPhone last week, Apple shares briefly reached an all-time high of $97.80 during trading before closing up 4.79 percent at $97 that day.
Apple also unveiled Apple TV, a new set-top box that sends video from computers to the television.
Due to be available in February at a price of $299, Apple TV could be a "surprise hit," American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu said.