Updated from 11:18 a.m. EST

Investors will be closely monitoring

Apple

(AAPL) - Get Report

's first-quarter results after the market closes Wednesday to gauge the extent of the consumer-spending slowdown and also measure the impact of Steve Jobs' absence on the tech bellwether.

The Apple CEO's recently announced

medical leave

has coincided with an increasingly uncertain economic climate, although his company is seen as one of the tech firms most likely to

weather

the economic storm.

The tech giant, which competes with the likes of

Hewlett-Packard

(HPQ) - Get Report

,

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

,

Nokia

(NOK) - Get Report

,

Research In Motion

(RIMM)

and

Palm

(PALM)

, will nonetheless be without its talismanic CEO for its first-quarter earnings, and Jobs' stand-in,

Tim Cook

, will be closely scrutinized during Wednesday's call.

Against this backdrop, Apple has been identified as a

buying opportunity

by investment analysts.

Tech investors

, they explained, could actually reap the benefits of weakening iPhone demand and an increasingly uncertain spending climate.

Goldman Sachs analyst David Bailey, however, gave the tech bellwether a "neutral" rating in a note released Tuesday, citing declining consumer demand and the air of mystery that typically surrounds the firm's roadmap.

"Although we expect a solid December quarter for Apple, weaker consumer demand and the absence of new product cycles add greater risk to Street estimates, particularly in the first half of 2009," he explained.

Analysts are estimating Apple fourth-quarter revenue of $9.74 billion and earnings of $1.39 a share, with Goldman Sachs predicting revenue of $9.9 billion.

The cash-rich PC maker, which is notoriously

conservative

in its guidance, has

forecast

first-quarter revenue between $9 billion and $10 billion, and earnings of $1.06 to $1.35 a share.

Apple, which had more than $24 billion in cash exiting the fourth quarter, can also count on its famously loyal customer base to help it through the coming months.

Goldman Sachs, however, warns that Wall Street could eventually push its Apple forecasts down.

"We expect the stock to trade with the broader hardware group until Street estimates are revised down further from current levels, with our $4.54 earnings per share estimate for fiscal 2009 well below the consensus forecast of $5.00," writes Bailey.

Apple, which shipped 6.9 million iPhones and 2.6 million Macs in the fourth quarter, is still experiencing relatively solid growth, according to Goldman.

Goldman Sachs' checks suggest that Apple's Mac sales grew 10% year over year in the first quarter to 2.6 million units, a stark contrast to the industry's general slump in PC sales. Apple's first-quarter iPhone sales, however, are likely to be around 5.5 million, down 1.4 million from the prior quarter, which saw the launch of the iPhone 3G.

Also relevant, U.S. regulators are reportedly looking into

Apple's disclosures

about Jobs' health to ensure investors weren't misled, according to

Bloomberg

.

Apple's shares were up 3.3% to $80.74 in recent trading, while the Nasdaq was up 1.7%.