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Apple earnings to show more gains

Apple's pending earnings report will likely show its first year-over-year quarterly revenue growth since 1996.

Apple Computer's pending earnings report will likely show its first year-over-year quarterly revenue growth since 1996, and will certainly show a fifth consecutive quarterly profit.

The once-troubled computer maker is well on its way to becoming a turnaround story, analysts say, bolstered by strong sales of G3 and iMac desktop models. Cofounder Steve Jobs's performance as interim chief executive has also raised spirits.

Apple is expected to announce revenues of around $1.7 billion to $1.75 billion when it reports its fiscal first-quarter results on January 13, according to analysts. Last year, Apple posted first-quarter revenues of $1.6 billion.

Apple's last year-over-year quarterly revenue growth came in the fiscal first quarter of 1996.

Speaking yesterday at the Macworld trade show in San Francisco, Jobs declared Apple would announce a quarterly profit next Wednesday, without further comment.

Analysts anticipate the Cupertino, California, company will post profits of around 70 cents a share, up from 33 cents a share a year ago. But despite the good news, they are not ready to say the company is on a revenue growth trend.

"[Despite] The fact that this will be the first time Apple will show revenue growth, it's not completely accurate to say the company's crossed a milestone," said Daniel Kunstler, an analyst with J.P. Morgan Securities.

The company needs to show that it has a business position with "legs," he observed, saying it's too early to tell if that has happened.

Kunstler admitted he is gaining confidence that Apple is headed in the right direction, given its unique appeal to computer users and the sales success of the iMac and revved-up G3 line, refreshed this week at Macworld.

During his keynote presentation, Jobs said Apple shipped between 520,000 to 530,000 iMac units during its fiscal first quarter, the October to December timeframe. That's up from Gardner's research estimate of 500,000 units.

Accordingly, analysts such as with Salomon Smith Barney's Richard Gardner have raised their earnings estimates. Gardner boosted his estimates to 72 cents a share from 70 cents.

"With the iMac?our gross margin assumption of 27 percent may prove conservative because we do not believe that Apple's price reductions have kept pace with component price declines," Gardner stated in his report.