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Apple doubles earnings estimate

The Mac maker posts a $55 million profit for the second fiscal quarter, reversing a loss of $708 million in the year-ago period.

Apple Computer (AAPL) said today that it posted a better-than-expected $55 million profit for the second fiscal quarter, reversing a loss of $708 million for the same period a year ago.

Quarterly revenues fell, however, to $1.4 billion from $1.6 Related analysis: G3 systems lead Apple profits billion. The per-share profit of 38 cents in diluted earnings was more than double the 16 cents per share that Wall Street analysts had been expecting for the computer maker, according to First Call. The range of broker estimates ranged from a loss of 7 cents per share to a gain of 32 cents.

This marks the second straight quarterly profit for the Apple at a glance company under acting chief executive Steve Jobs, an Apple cofounder.

"Apple had a great quarter, no question about it," Jobs said in a statement. "We are very pleased with the strong demand for our Power Macintosh G3 computers, which accounted for 51 percent of all units sold."

Apple hasn't posted two straight quarters of profits since the fiscal third and fourth quarters of 1995. "The G3s' higher margins, coupled with disciplined expense controls, have yielded continued positive cash flows and solid, high-quality earnings," chief financial officer Fred Anderson said.

In a conference call, Anderson said Apple's search for a permanent CEO is on the back burner. "Steve is our leader, and he is recognized as really turning around the situation here," he said. "For us, it doesn't matter if he has interim in front of his title or not." (See related story)

Apple said international sales accounted for 50 percent of total revenues. Gross margins for the quarter were 25 percent, up from 19 percent for the like quarter a year earlier. Unit shipments were 650,000 for the quarter, up 8 percent from the same quarter a year ago.

"It's been a long time since we've seen unit shipments up on a year-to-year basis," Anderson added. Apple hasn't recorded such an increase since the first fiscal quarter of 1996.

In looking to the future, Anderson said that revenue in the current quarter likely will be flat over the previous three months and that sales for the fiscal fourth quarter are expected to be higher than that of the third. A year-over-year revenue increase is not expected until next year's fiscal first quarter, he said.

Apple's gross margin likely will remain at 23 percent or more for the rest of the fiscal year, Anderson added. Gross margins will be hurt by a decline in the average selling unit price of the Macintosh computers but will be balanced out by the higher margins from G3 sales and a new line of PowerBook notebook computers.

Anderson declined to say when those PowerBooks may hit stores.

Louis Mazzucchelli, an analyst with Gerard Klauer Mattison, said he expects the new notebooks to roll out in May, after the inventory of the older models has been cleared out. Although today's results were "great," he added, it does not yet signal a turnaround for the PC maker. That may take until the end of the year, he said.

The stock closed up a half-point in today's trading, at 27-7/16, nearing a 52-week high. The earnings were announced after the stock market closed.

Dawn Yoshitake contributed to this story.