Apple shares slump on Jobs health news

Some Wall Street analysts point to Apple's deep executive bench, but investors aren't so sure the company can maintain its momentum without CEO Steve Jobs.

Apple stock chart
Apple shares took a sharp drop to start the day Thursday, as the markets opened after Wednesday's news that Steve Jobs would take a medical leave of absence. Yahoo Finance

Update at 2:29 p.m. PST, with closing stock price.

Shares of Apple took a hit Thursday at the market open, falling 5.7 percent as investors demonstrated their anxiety about the company following the news that CEO Steve Jobs is taking a medical leave .

Apple opened at $80.50 a share in morning trading, down from its close of $85.33 a share Wednesday. But by the end of the regular trading session, Apple narrowed the gap, with its shares closing down 2.29 percent to $83.38 a share.

While a number of Wall Street analysts predicted Apple can stay on track with its deep executive bench, investors remain skeptical whether the company's vision and momentum can remain should Jobs' leave extend beyond the summer.

In his tenure, Jobs has provided a clear voice and direction regarding markets that Apple would enter and the types of products, such as the iPhone, for those markets. It remains to be seen whether his disdain for consensus-building and the homogenization of ideas will be discarded in his absence.

"Apple's command and control structure has worked well for the company," said Ashok Kumar, an analyst with Collins Stewart.

Kumar noted, however, that while no one executive can fill Jobs' shoes, the company can move forward with a "group genius" approach.

But one analyst wasn't so sure, downgrading Apple's shares to underperform, or "sell," noting concerns over Jobs' medical leave and the effects of the recession on Apple's products.

Analyst Michael Abramsky of RBC Capital Markets noted in his research report released Thursday:

CEO Jobs' unexpected leave of absence raises near-term uncertainty regarding leadership. Jobs is widely viewed as Apple's chief innovator, dealmaker, leader, deeply involved in minute decisions, inextricably tied to Apple's brand. Jobs' being sidelined for 6 months or more and unavailable day-to-day - with no clear successor - in our view raises risks to Apple's sustaining its stellar record of innovation going forward.

Abramsky also noted in his report that further deterioration is expected in consumer electronics and Apple-related spending over the next three months.

In an RBC IQ/Changewave survey for January, 28 percent of respondents said they planned to buy a Mac laptop in the next 90 days, versus 33 percent of survey respondents back in November.

Analyst Andy Hargreaves with Pacific Crest Securities, meanwhile, believes Apple's future innovation efforts would be better spent exploiting the popular iPhone as a technology platform.

"I think they created a paradigm shift with the iPhone," Hargreaves said.

Expanding the iPhone as a platform through additional services, software, and hardware would also require less high-brow vision.

As for Apple's stock price, which analysts such as Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray described as grossly undervalued and a buy opportunity , it already had concerns over Jobs' health baked into the price, noted Hargreaves.

"Given where the stock has been trading," Hargreaves said, "successful innovation has not been embedded in the price."

Apple's disclosures regarding Jobs' health have stirred concern over the timeliness of disclosures and the quality of Apple's corporate governance. All this also raises the question of whether Apple is setting itself up to be the target of shareholder lawsuits, noted a Reuters report.

 

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