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Apple gets past 3Q estimates but sales disappoint

    Apple Computer topped analysts' estimates in its third quarter Tuesday, earning $200 million, or 55 cents a share, on sales of $1.83 billion.

    First Call Corp. consensus expected the PC maker to earn 44 cents a share in the quarter. However, the third-quarter results included a $37 million gain related to the sale of 4.95 million shares of ARM Holdings Plc. Excluding those gains, Apple earned $163 million, or 45 cents a share, in the quarter.

    Ahead of the earnings report, Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) shares closed off 1 1/16 to 57 1/4 but fell to 53 1/2 in after-hours trading.

    The $1.83 billion in sales marks a 17 percent improvement from the year-ago quarter when it raked in $203 million, or 60 cents a share, on sales of $1.56 billion.

    Also, the $1.825 billion in sales fell slightly below most analysts' estimates. Various reports expected the computer maker to report sales ranging between $1.9 billion and $1.95 billion.

    In the quarter, Apple sold more than 1 million units including 450,000 iMac systems and 350,000 PowerMac G4 systems. Total unit sales improved 12 percent from the year-ago quarter.

    "We're pleased to report our eleventh consecutive profitable quarter, with net profits up 43 percent,'' said CEO Steve Jobs in a prepared release. "We've now shipped 3.7 million iMacs since introduction, and we had a strong quarter for our pro products, especially PowerBooks."

    Last quarter, Apple shattered analysts' estimates, earning $160 million, or 88 cents a share, on sales of $1.94 billion.

    Its shares moved up to a 52-week high of 75 3/16 in March after falling to a low of 25 7/16 last July.

    Seventeen of the 20 analysts following the stock maintain either a "buy" or "strong buy" recommendation.

    First Call Corp. consensus expects the Cupertino, Calif. company to earn $1.83 a share in the fiscal year.

    In a separate release, Apple announced an alliance with Circuit City Stores (NYSE:CC) to offer Apple products in its 570 retail outlets. The store will display Apple's hardware and showcase Apple's desktop video software.