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Reaction mixed on Steve Jobs’ hiatus: Focus shifts from Apple CEO’s health to firm’s stock

If the news that Apple Inc.’s CEO Steve Jobs would take a six-month break from day-to-day work was intended to lay rumors to rest and return the focus to Apple’s business, that will take time.
And, according to some, greater transparency on Jobs’ health.
Meanwhile, Apple shares were down nearly 5% by midday today to $80.81, just above the 52-week low of $79.14. (The high was $192.24.) The iPhone maker is due to report on the quarter Jan. 21.
And financial analysts, as well as business columnists, were debating a variety of issues.
Does Jobs and Apple’s board owe investors more specificity and clarity on his health issues? Have their recent statements been up-to-date and completely truthful? Whither the health of the man and, by extension, the company?
More bluntly, how should the stock be valued when these questions are so difficult to answer?
“It’s Time for Apple to Come Clean,” reads The New York Times headline on columnist Joe Nocera’s take today.
“It is possible … that (Jobs) and Apple are telling the truth,” wrote Nocera. “Possible – but unlikely.”
Nocera had spoken with Jobs last summer in an off-the-record conversation in which Jobs disclosed a health problem – not the “hormonal imbalance” the Apple CEO cited last week – after calling the columnist a “slime bucket.”
“To be blunt,” Nocera concluded, “investors simply don’t believe Mr. Jobs. (And) his health has become a material fact for Apple shareholders. His vagueness about his health, his dissembling, his constantly changing story line … is simply not an appropriate way to act when you are the most important person at one of the most high-profile companies in America.”
Needham & Company analyst Charles Wolf, who’s take on Apple is closely followed, basically agreed.
“It is reasonable to expect, given the history of Steve’s illness, that the market is probably going to assume that he is not going to return to Apple,” Wolf said, according to The New York Times.
“While Jobs is certainly entitled to a certain amount of personal privacy, the lack of clarity on the seriousness of his health (issues) makes investors in the stock that much more nervous,” wrote Eric Savitz for Barron’s.
The big question
Reactions among analysts appeared polarized. On either sides of the fault line: those who believe that Apple is so well-run by a team largely obscured by Jobs’ celebrity that the company will do fine with or without its current CEO, and those who believe the company is too closely tied to Jobs’ vision, drive and marketing savvy.
In either case, most analysts agreed that the recent zigs and zags in the narrative of Jobs’ health have dampened Apple’s stock value, creating a chance to buy it at a low price.
Wolf, at Needham, wrote that in the absence of a resignation, Jobs and Apple “may well be telling the truth.” But with the stock trading “on the prospect that Mr. Jobs will never return, the news (yesterday) could represent an incredible buying opportunity.”


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