Is Apple's business health tied to that of its CEO?
Concerns over Steve Jobs' health continue to dog the company, and its attempts to quell such discussion seem to be falling mostly on deaf ears.
The issue cropped up once again during Apple's financial results call Monday when Lehman Brothers financial analyst Ben Reitzes said he was forced to ask for an official statement from the company on Jobs' health.
He claimed that several clients had expressed concern following a spate of reports on the CEO's appearance, which has become increasingly gaunt in recent public appearances.
Apple's response couldn't have been any more unclear. "Steve loves Apple. He serves at the pleasure of Apple's board," financial chief Peter Oppenheimer responded. "He has no plans to leave Apple. Steve's health is a private matter."
That apparently wasn't good enough for Wall Street. Immediately following the call, Apple's stock tanked. Closing Monday at $165.90, on Tuesday morning the stock opened at $149.97, and took the entire day plus Wednesday morning to recover.
Analysts are not sure if the decline had to do with the health issue, or was related to the shrinking gross margins that the company expects as part of an "upcoming product transition."
Jobs is fighting back against the talk, telling people close to him that his ill health has been exaggerated in the media, the New York Times reports. He has apparently told associates that he is doing well after the bout of pancreatic cancer he had an operation to remove.
Another surgical procedure occurred earlier this year to deal with the weight loss issue. Jobs' appearance at WWDC was explained as a "common bug," and sources said he ran a high fever for a week before the event that nearly caused him to cancel his appearance.
Financial companies are arguing that the concerns are valid. In a note to clients, Deustche Bank said that "while the topic is delicate, we believe the absence of a straightforward denial of health issues will increase speculation of worst case scenario."
Peter Cohan in a post for BloggingStocks echoed Deustche Bank's argument. "Apple's silence is making investors nervous since it's not likely that anyone can do as good a job as [Jobs]," he argued. "Apple's board may have a duty to report on Jobs' health if he can't perform his duties."