Tech stocks were again headed south toward recently set multi-year lows Wednesday, but shareholders of Apple ( AAPL) were smiling at the relatively stable prospects for a cash-rich company that makes things people want. The PC maker's stock was up nearly 7% -- a rare bright spot in the sector - a day after the company reported a 26% pop in its fourth-quarter profit late Tuesday. Apple, of course, is notoriously conservative in its financial forecasting, typically enabling the company to tear through its own, if not Wall Street's, estimates. This trend looks set to continue with Apple estimating first-quarter earnings of $1.06 to $1.35 a share on revenue of $9 billion to $10 billion. Analysts, in contrast, had been expecting the company to earn $1.65 a share on revenue of $10.6 billion.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs refused to make any comments on the state of the economy during a conference call late Tuesday, but the company's results offer plenty of hints as to the consumer spending climate. "This is the first time Apple provided a revenue range in almost 2 years (last time was Q2/F07), suggesting unprecedented uncertainty of outlook," wrote RBC analyst Mike Abramsky, in a note released Wednesday. "Apple's outlook in our view highlights its rising challenges, including: a) a deteriorating consumer spending environment; b) premium price points for Macs, some possibly mismatched to tightening budgets, and c) margin Risks." Abramsky nonetheless maintained his sector perform rating on Apple, but reduced his target to $125 from $140, citing a lower earnings outlook and increased risks.