Massucci's Take: Seven points to ponder in Apple's earnings report

Can Apple carry the technology group on its back, and maybe move it higher even after its shares have rallied 44 percent this year? Is Steve Jobs coming back? Did he ever leave? How is he feeling? Will he make a surprise appearance on the company's earnings conference call?

Here are seven items to watch for when the company reports its earnings today for the three-month period ending March 31.

1. Jobs. Not layoffs, but Steve. Where is Steve? How is Steve?

Is Jobs still running things, as suggested by The Wall Street Journal two weeks ago? News of any sort about Jobs would be enough to drive the stock, no matter what the earnings may be.

It may feel like it was long ago that CEO Jobs took his leave. But it has been only three months since he went on medical leave, turning to Tim Cook, chief operating officer, to run the company.

2. Apple shares. The stock has rallied since the beginning of the year as investors expect Apple's sales to gain strength as the economy gains. Its stock is up 10 times more than the Nasdaq Composite Index this year. Apple shares have ranged from $78.20 to $192.24 in the past year.

3. Overall sales. Sales of $8 billion is expected by a consensus of analysts for the quarter. In the same quarter last year, Apple had $7.5 billion in sales. The company predicted sales in a range of $7.6 billion to $8 billion in January. Analysts are expecting Apple to have stronger sales than other tech giants.

4. Mac sales. Expectations are for more than two million Mac products to have been sold during the quarter. The MacBook line was refreshed and iMac desktop sales will be watched closely.

5. iPod sales. Sales of the company's most popular line of products, the iPod, are expected to come in just under 10 million sold for the quarter. Both the Nano and Shuffle had been refreshed recently and investors will want to see how they are selling.

6. iPhone sales: Expected to be in at just over three million units sold for Apple. Today, in its earnings report, AT&T said it sold 1.6 million phones. Investors will want to know if there's a cheaper iPhone ($99) or a bigger iPhone (32GB) in the works.

7. What's next? Folks will tune in to the company's conference call for clues. Any new Mac products or iPods coming? Some are expecting the company to introduce a new iPhone in June at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference. Any news on a tablet computer or a larger iPod touch? Maybe most important, are sales stronger in the current quarter compared with the previous quarter. Has the bottom been reached, as Intel said last week?

In the "just one more thing" (as Jobs is famous for saying when announcing new products) category: Apple's iPhone App Store is about to hit a billion downloads. Watch out McDonald's. Billions are being served.

Anthony Massucci is a senior writer and columnist for DailyFinance. He previously covered technology companies for Bloomberg News.
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