updated 4/23/2008 8:48:47 PM ET 2008-04-24T00:48:47

Apple Inc.’s fiscal second-quarter profit jumped 36 percent on blistering sales of Macintosh computers — and beat Wall Street estimates — but its stock dipped on a lower-than-expected profit forecast.

The Mac and iPod maker is believed to be especially vulnerable to slowing consumer spending in the United States because of its stronger presence here than overseas, a factor that has contributed to a 20 percent decline in Apple’s stock price since the start of the year.

Another factor weighing on Apple during the second and third quarters is the company’s decision to delay recognizing iPhone sales until a software upgrade for the multimedia gadget is shipped this summer.

But the company has traditionally issued conservative financial forecasts, and sales in the United States were particularly strong in the latest quarter. So many investors were left scratching their heads about how to interpret Apple’s guidance.

Apple shares fell $1.18, or less than 1 percent, to $161.71 in after-hours trading, climbing back from a dip of nearly 5 percent right after the close of trading and the release of the earnings report. The shares had closed up $2.69, or 1.7 percent, at $162.89, during the regular session.

“The stock was all over the place, but I thought it was a great quarter,” said Jane Snorek, senior analyst of technology stocks at First American Funds.

“The most important part is that the Apple consumer seems to be immune to economic weakness,” she said. “This is a very U.S.-centric story. The guidance could have been horrendous. They could have said they were seeing pricing pressure, or the stores weren’t doing well. But I see it as, I’m perfectly safe buying the stock now.”

The Cupertino-based company earned $1.05 billion, or $1.16 per share, in its second quarter, which ended March 29. That’s 9 cents per share better than what analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were expecting on average.

During the same period last year, Apple earned $770 million, or 87 cents per share.

Revenue jumped 43 percent in the period to $7.51 billion — also beating Wall Street’s expectations. Analysts were predicting Apple would rake in $6.96 billion.

Apple said this year brought the strongest sales and earnings performance during the March quarter in Apple’s history.

Apple’s chief financial officer, Peter Oppenheimer, would not specifically address in an interview how Apple might be affected by slowing domestic consumer spending, but he noted that Apple’s sales growth overall is expected to continue accelerating, a sign the company is faring well despite the economic downturn.

Management is aware of the economic pressures but is focused on running the company, which performed “exceptionally well” and turned in an “awesome” quarter, he said.

The company forecast profits for the fiscal third quarter of $1 per share, short of the $1.10 per share in the average analyst estimate and at the low end of what all analysts polled were expecting.

The company expects sales of about $7.2 billion, slightly above the $7.16 billion Wall Street was expecting.

Apple sold 2.29 million Macintosh computers during the second quarter, a 51 percent jump over a year ago. The company sold 10.6 million iPods during the quarter, one percent higher than last year, and 1.7 million iPhones.

Apple’s stock, which had quadrupled from its recent low of $50.67 in July 2006 to a high of $202.96 in December of last year, has suffered recently amid worries about intensifying competition and fears it could be hurt by economic jitters that are tamping down consumer spending.

The stock dropped as low as $120 earlier this year but has since rebounded on signs Apple’s Macintosh business is gaining more market share and optimism about the iPhone.

Apple unveiled new software in March for the iPhone that allows third-party developers to build applications for the multimedia gadget — they had been locked out before — and makes the iPhone compatible with Microsoft Corp.’s Exchange software.

The latter is Apple’s attempt to woo more business customers while addressing a key weakness in the iPhone and placing it in more direct competition with Research in Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry and Palm Inc.’s Treo smart phones.

Apple executives reiterated the company’s goal to sell 10 million iPhones by the end of 2008.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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