APPLE shares tanked in European trading yesterday after talismanic boss Steve Jobs announced he will take an open-ended leave of absence on medical grounds.
The bombshell, dropped on the eve of tonight’s Apple trading update, caused panic among investors who fear the firm could struggle without Jobs at the helm.
US markets were closed for Martin Luther King day but the firm’s stock was trading in Germany, where it plummeted almost nine per cent before recovering slightly to close down 6.2 per cent. If repeated when US markets open this morning, the drop would represent a fall of almost $20bn (£12.6bn) in the firm’s market cap.
Simon Clark, a trader from ETX Capital said the slump could be “overdone,” with investors overselling their German stock because they could not trade in the US.
He said: “Jobs is Apple really, so the fact he is off on medical leave could mean a big hit on the firm’s stock. But it’s impossible to get a proper feel until later this morning.
“It could be that it is very badly hit initially but we might then see some bargain hunting later in the day.”
Chief operating officer Tim Cook, who was poached from rival Compaq by Jobs in 1998, will deputise during his absence. Jobs has been plagued by speculation regarding his health since suffering from a rare form of pancreatic cancer. He had a tumour successfully removed in 2004 but his subsequent gaunt appearance fuelled rumours his health was still poor.
In 2009, after missing his keynote speech at the Macworld conference, he took a six month leave of absence to undergo a liver transplant. On this occasion trading in Apple’s stock was suspended after falling 10 per cent.
On both occasions Cook took over the day-to-day running of the firm.
Jobs’ letter to staff read: “At my request, the board of directors has granted me a medical leave of absence so I can focus on my health. I will continue as chief executive and be involved in major strategic decisions for the company.
“I love Apple so much and hope to be back as soon as I can.”
Fears over Jobs’ health are sure to reignite the fierce debate over his successor, with investors pressuring the firm to name a future leader. Apple, the world’s second biggest firm with a market cap of $319.7bn, is poised to announce record quarterly sales of $24bn today.