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Apple sees 1Q letdown

Add Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) to the ranks of distressed computer makers.

After market close Tuesday, the vendor of personal computers using the MacOS said it expects a fiscal first quarter loss ranging between $225 million and $250 million, excluding investment gains, on revenue of roughly $1 billion. First Call's survey of 16 analysts had been predicting a profit of 3 cents per share on sales approximating $1.6 billion, for the quarter ending Dec. 30.

CFO Fred Anderson also slashed his full-year revenue forecast. Anderson now sees fiscal 2001 revenue of $6 billion to $6.5 million, down at least 13 percent from the company's previous target of $7.5 billion to $8 billion in sales. That earlier target was itself reduced from prior expectations.

Shares of Apple fell to 14 in afterhours activity on the Island electronic communications network, following the warning. Apple rose 0.3125 to 17 in Tuesday's regular trading, prior to the first quarter preannouncement.

Apple saw "significantly slower than expected" sales in the first two months of the the quarter, in all parts of the world. The company blamed the expected loss on the revenue shortfall and charges for cancelled orders of components.

Tuesday's news marks the latest disappointing preannouncement from a consumer-oriented seller of computers. Gateway (NYSE: GTW) and Micron Electronics (Nasdaq: MUEI) recently warned about the December quarter.

Less consumer-centric PC vendors such as Compaq (NYSE: CPQ) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HWP) have reported sales on track with their expectations so far.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs blamed his company's shortfall on an "industry-wide" trend.

"We're not happy about it, and plan to return to sustained profitability next quarter," Jobs said. "We are committed to reducing our channel inventories to normal levels by the end of this quarter, and remain very excited about the new products and programs Apple will be rolling out in 2001."

This will be the second disappointing quarter in a row for Apple. Shares of Apple plunged in September after the company surprised Wall Street with a fourth quarter warning.

Apple subsequently missed lowered fourth quarter estimates and cut expectations for fiscal 2001.

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