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Apple storms to £8.3bn profit

Apple storms to £8.3bn profit

iPhone sales up 128%, iPad up 111% over same quarter a year ago

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Apple has smashed sales records of the iPhone, iPad and Mac in the final quarter of 2011, the first reporting period after the death of former CEO Steve Jobs.

The quarter's revenue of $46.3 billion (£29.7 billion) was also a record, as was net profit. Sales rose by 73% over 2010, and the net profit of $13 billion (£8.3 billion) was more than double the $6 billion the company booked in the final quarter of 2010.

"It was a home run," Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research said in an interview at the conclusion of Apple's earnings call with Wall Street analysts.

"Apple crushed even the most optimistic expectations," added Brian White of Ticonderoga Securities.

The quarter was fueled by a huge jump in sales of the iPhone, the line that accounted for nearly 53% of Apple's revenue.

Apple sold 37 million iPhones, 82% more than the previous record of 20.3 million, and dealt out significantly more smartphones than Wall Street's estimate, which had settled around 32 million in the days leading up to Tuesday's earnings release.

iPhone sales were up 128% over the same quarter in 2010, and jumped 117% over the previous three-month period, when the numbers disappointed some analysts .

Demand for the iPhone 4S -- which Apple said was its best-selling model -- continued to outstrip supply during the quarter, said CEO Tim Cook, but he noted that things were improving, even if some countries still faced shortages.

"We made a very bold bet in the quarter about what demand would be, and we were [still] short of supply throughout the quarter," said Cook, who took over as chief executive last August when then-CEO Steve Jobs stepped down . "The situation has improved some from the end of the quarter until now, but we are still short in some key geographic areas."

Apple's U.S. online store currently shows new iPhone 4S devices shipping three to five business days after ordering, much shorter than last year's delays, which at one point were at one to two weeks.

iPad sales also set a record last quarter: Apple sold 15.4 million iPads, up 111% over the same quarter in 2010 and 39% higher than the previous quarter.

And Cook again took shots at rival tablets, dismissing them as "single-feature" devices -- a clear reference to Amazon's Fire, which at $199 is foremost a souped-up e-reader -- and saying that Apple would rise to any challenge.

"People want to do multiple things with their tablets," Cook said. "We can continue to compete with anyone currently shipping tablets or who might in the future."

Later in the call, Cook said that the Fire, which launched in early November, "did not have an obvious effect on the iPad [sales]."

Apple sold 5.2 million Macs, beating the previous record of 4.9 million established in the third quarter of 2011.

Apple set sales records for the iPhone, iPad and Mac last quarter. 

While global PC sales as a whole contracted in the fourth quarter by between 0.6% and 1.4%, Apple sold 26% more Macs in the period than it did in the same stretch the year before.

Apple sold 3.7 million laptops and almost 1.5 million desktops, representing gains of 28% and 21%, respectively, over the same period of 2010.

Peter Oppenheimer, Apple's chief financial officer, again cited strong sales of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro lines, as well as the iMac, as the foundation of last quarter's figures.

Both notebook and desktop sales were records for Apple.

However, Macs still account for a small percentage of total personal computer sales. Earlier this month, research firm IDC estimated that worldwide sales reached 92.7 million in the last three months of 2011.

After Oppenheimer brought up the subject of Apple's cash-on-hand -- it now has a record $98 billion -- he and Cook spent significant time answering questions from analysts about what the company intended to do with it.

Neither man disclosed any concrete plans for the money.

But Gottheil read the discussion as a hint that Apple would make a move sooner than later. "They initiated the discussion of the cash pile, which they don't do, and that makes me think they're going to announce something soon," Gottheil said.

He speculated that the most logical use for some of the $98 billion was to lock in exclusive content deals -- or even negotiate non-exclusive rights -- in preparation for launching a smart television set in 2012.

"I see the possibility of them buying something big only in the content area," said Gottheil.

The record sales of iPhones, iPads and Macs was not unexpected: Two weeks ago, White said that his "Apple Barometer," an index of Asian suppliers that provide components for Apple's products, hinted at record growth.

Last quarter was the first full earnings period during which Cook was CEO and the first earnings report since Jobs' death on Oct. 5, 2011 at the age of 56.

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