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Apple’s Financials: Would You Buy Stock From These People?

What with all the scandals about the way large financial institutions handled questionable home loans and other costly transactions, you wonder why anyone would grant an ounce of credibility to Wall Street.

To a small degree, I speak from a bad personal experience, which may be apropos of nothing in the scheme of things, though I’m sure some of you might have some really significant war stories to offer.

Some years back, the Steinberg family wanted to invest in a college education fund for our one and only son, Grayson. As a tech journalist, I played no part in any of these discussoins or in the actual transactions, since I wanted to keep my reputation for objectivity intact. But I did listen in without comment as a stock broker recommended a collection of tech companies that she assured us were poised for tremendous growth.

In retrospect, we didn’t realize that the market was on the verge of the dot-com crash, and all those stocks and lots of others would soon come crashing down with great indignity, as did the small amount we invested. Of course, the stock broker got her commission whether we won or lost, so it didn’t matter to her. She was only too happy to recommend whatever companies gave her the largest spiffs, and I find it difficult to believe she didn’t know what was going on, though anything’s possible.

So where does Apple Inc. enter the picture? Well, Apple had lots of good news to offer with its quarterly financials, which were posed Tuesday afternoon, after the stock market closed.

Since numbers are king here, let me lay a few on you. For its fiscal 2008 fourth quarter, Apple Inc. reported revenues of $7.9 billion and net quarterly profit of $1.14 billion, or $1.26 per diluted share. Gross margin was 34.7%, higher than they predicted in their guidance for the last quarter.

For the same quarter last year, the figures were reported as $6.22 billion in revenues, with earnings of $904 million, or $1.01 per undiluted share. Gross margins stood at 33.6%.

So where was the major product transition mentioned during the previous quarter, which would seriously impact Apple’s profits? Well, if it happened at all, it probably involved the design and production ramp of the new Apple aluminum unibody note-books introduced last week, and that may, in part, already be dragging down Apple’s typically conservative guidance for the current quarter.

However, the figures do show that everything is still coming up roses for Apple. A record of 2.6 million Macs were sold, which amounts to a 21 percent unit growth and a 17 percent revenue growth compared to last year’s comparable quarter. Despite predictions that the iPod sales had flattened, more than 11 million were sold, representing a growth rate of 8% over the year-ago quarter.

But perhaps the star of the show is the iPhone. Even though the 3G model only went on sale in the middle of the last quarter, nearly 6.1 million were sold through the end of the quarter. This takes Apple comfortably past its 2008 prediction of 10 million units, as the App Store hits the 200 million download mark. Even more fascinating is the fact that the iPhone beat BlackBerry, with RIM reporting sales of 5.4 million units.

This is incredible news for a product that only went on the market in June of 2007, as compared to a line of smartphones that’s been available for nearly eight years. And don’t get me started about the Google Android mobile phone operating system.

If you want to check more deeply into Apple’s raw numbers, you’ll want to consult their press release on the subject. One of the most significant pieces of information is the quote from Steve Jobs: “We don’t yet know how this economic downturn will affect Apple. But we’re armed with the strongest product line in our history, the most talented employees and the best customers in our industry. And $25 billion of cash safely in the bank with zero debt.”

Certainly the ongoing economic woes here in the states and throughout much of the world threaten to hurt Apple this quarter, at least to some extent. On the other hand, COO Tim Cook said, in the earnings call with analysts, that Mac demand remains high, that they have significant backlogs on new products and they’re trying to fill the orders as soon as they can.

Despite published reports about the possible end of the line for the Mac mini, nobody asked the question about its future during the conference call, and Apple’s executives, which included a rare appearance by Steve Jobs, didn’t volunteer anything new about it. Maybe no one cares.

As to future products, for now it appears the Apple TV remains a hobby and Jobs expects that it will remain a hobby through 2009, in part because of economic conditions.

In response to questions about tablets and touchscreen-based Macs, Apple took its usual stand, that it won’t talk about future products. But I suppose the question had to be asked nonetheless.

And, no, Steve Jobs didn’t volunteer his blood pressure reading, body temperature or any other medical information during the session.