Apple's tree continues to grow

Fiscal Q4 revenue of $4.84 bil blows by Street forecasts

Apple Computer Inc. reported quarterly results Wednesday that bested analysts' estimates in nearly every measure, including the sale of a hefty 8.7 million iPods.

Profit at Apple during its fiscal fourth quarter was $546 million, a 27% improvement compared with the $430 million posted in the same frame a year ago. Revenue of $4.84 billion was up 32% compared with last year's $3.68 billion.

Analysts had predicted $4.67 billion in revenue. On a per-share basis, Apple earned 62 cents, well above the 51 cents analysts had expected.

Company executives were careful to point out that its financial results were "preliminary" because Apple intends to do some restating thanks to previous mishandling of the accounting of stock-option expenses. The restatements could lead to a "significant adjustment," Apple execs said Wednesday.

Sales of iPods grew 35% year-over-year and 8% sequentially. Revenue for iPods grew at a slower pace as prices have come down and cheaper models have been introduced. IPod revenue advanced 29% year-over-year and 4% sequentially.

Sales at Apple's iTunes music and video store rose 71% year-over-year to $452 million, though they were down 1% sequentially because of seasonality.

Apple senior vp and chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer said summer "is not the best quarter for music sales," adding that there were not many strong album releases in the three months ending Sept. 30.

ITunes is now in 21 countries, and the company plans to introduce movies already available in the U.S. to an international audience next year. The company sells 75 titles, all from the Walt Disney Co., and Oppenheimer said Wednesday that "we plan to add more over time."

Asked by an analyst about price strategies of music and video sales at iTunes, Oppenheimer said, "Our philosophy is to run the store a little bit over break-even."

Apple said that it sold 1.6 million Mac computers during the quarter, 30% better than a year ago.

For the full fiscal year, Apple sold 39 million iPods and 5.3 million Macs.

The current management team, including CEO Steve Jobs, who was not on Wednesday's conference call with analysts, was cleared by an internal probe of any wrongdoing in regard to stock options.

For the current quarter, Apple offered guidance that was below analysts' estimates, though that has been Apple's pattern of late. The company expects earnings per share of as much as 73 cents on revenue of as much as $6.2 billion.

Apple shares, up fractionally during regular trading Wednesday to $74.53, jumped after the closing bell.