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Apple Chews Up Estimates

The stock jumps to an all-time high after another rousing earnings beat.

Updated from Oct. 22




shares jumped a day after its fourth-quarter results blew away analysts' expectations.

Net income increased to $904 million, or $1.01 a share, up from $546 million, or 62 cents a share, during the same quarter a year ago, handily beating analysts' consensus forecast of 86 cents, according to Thomson Financial.

Revenue rose 28.5% to $6.22 billion, also topping the consensus estimate of $6.07 billion.

"We're looking forward to a strong December quarter as we enter the holiday season with Apple's best products ever," Chief Executive Steve Jobs said in a statement.

Shares of Apple were up $13.49, or 7.7%, to $187.85 in the premarket Tuesday, climbing above their all-time closing high set last week.

In the quarter, the company sold 1.12 million iPhones, 2.16 million Mac computers and 10.2 million iPods. Strong Mac sales helped Apple's gross margin widen to 33.6% from 29.2% a year ago.

Unit sales of iPhones and Macs generally exceeded the average of analysts' expectations, which grew increasingly optimistic throughout the quarter. iPod sales, by contrasts, were generally in line with modest growth expectations.

Mac sales were clearly the standout in the quarter. The number of Macs sold rose 34% while revenue generated soared 40% to $3.1 billion, or nearly half of total revenue, up from 45% a year earlier. During a conference to discuss the quarter, Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook attributed the strong sales to brisk back-to-school shopping, an increase in the number of retail locations where Macs and sold, and the much vaunted iPod "halo effect."

"We've sold over 120 million iPods, mostly to (Microsoft) Windows users," said Cook. "We introduced the Apple brand to them through the iPod."

According to Cook, more than 50% of the Macs sold in Apple's retail stores during the quarter were to first-time Macs buyers. Worldwide, Macs are now sold in 8,700 locations, an increase of 2,000 year over year. Most of the new stores are in Europe and Asia, Cook said.

The iPod remains a staple of Apple sales, albeit to a diminishing extent. Sales growth slowed to 4% and shipments grew only 17%, down from 29% and 35% respectively in the same quarter last year. That reduced the iPod's contribution to total sales to 26% from 32% a year earlier.

As the iPod's influence wanes, the iPhone, is expected to pick up the slack. Cook said that Apple is on track to meet its goal of selling 10 million iPhones in 2008. About 95% of iPhone users would recommend the device to others, according to Cook. That is the highest customer satisfaction rating on any Apple product in the company's history, he said.

Overall, the iPhone is still a small part of Apple's business, bringing in just $118 million, or 2% of total sales.

For the important December quarter, which reflects holiday shopping, Apple forecast earnings of $1.42 a share on sales of $9.2 billion, vs. analysts' average estimate of $1.39 a share on $8.58 billion in sales.