LONDON/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs is taking medical leave for the second time in as many years, sending its shares tumbling close to 10 percent as the unexpected news revived concerns over the long-term future of the iPhone- and iPad-maker.
The news, which was disclosed early on a U.S. holiday when markets were closed, came nearly two years to the date after Jobs first took a six-month break to undergo a liver transplant.
“At my request, the board of directors has granted me a medical leave of absence so I can focus on my health,” Jobs, 55, wrote in an email to staff published on a regulatory newswire. “I love Apple so much and hope to be back as soon as I can.”
Unlike the previous announcement, Apple did not specify any timeline for Jobs to resume his duties. An Apple spokesman declined to comment beyond a news release.
Analysts said investors would likely fear the worst about Jobs’ health, and expected Apple to remain tight-lipped about his condition.
“This time around you have to question his ability to bounce back,” said Hudson Square Research analyst Daniel Ernst.
Jobs, a survivor of pancreatic cancer, said chief operating officer Tim Cook would take responsibility for day-to-day operations but he would continue to be chief executive and be involved in major strategic decisions.
Apple shares fell 8.3 percent in Frankfurt by midday. Nasdaq futures were down 1.4 percent. Monday is a holiday in the United States and markets are closed. In recent days, Apples shares reached new all-time highs after announcing its iPhone would be available to customers of Verizon Wireless, the largest U.S. mobile operator.
JOBS KEY TO APPLE REBIRTH
Apple’s destiny has been closely tied to Jobs, who revived the computer maker’s fortunes in 1996 after a 12-year absence from the company he co-founded.
The launch of the iPhone, a smartphone with a touchscreen in 2007, and the iPad, a tablet computer in 2010, forged new business lines for the company that created the personal computing category and helped lead the technology industry into new directions.
Analysts said the effect on Apple’s operations should be limited in the short term, since its product line-up was strong, but his absence would be a worry if it became prolonged. Cook ran day-to-day operations during Jobs’ last absence in 2009.
“This will come as a surprise to Apple investors and definitely take some shine off the Apple stock,” said Alexander Peterc, an equity analyst at Exane.
“But even if Steve Jobs never returns to Apple, I would not expect a visible, tangible impact on how Apple is executing over the next couple of years.”
Gleacher & Co analyst Brian Marshall said investors would undoubtedly question Apple’s long-term momentum, given Jobs’ outsized role in developing the company’s hit products.
“Clearly Steve is a visionary. And at $350 a share this is going to weigh on investors,” he said
Richard Windsor, global technology specialist at Nomura, agreed that a Jobs absence should not have a fundamental effect, but added: “Perception of the company is another matter.”
“Steve Jobs is seen by the market to be a major force in Apple’s strategic direction. If his pancreatic cancer has returned, one could be quite worried.”
Apple has been notoriously close-mouthed about Jobs’ medical condition. He had surgery in 2004 for an unusual type of tumor on his pancreas called a neuroendocrine tumor — which often is not quite as deadly as pancreatic cancer. The tumors can cause hormone imbalances, like the one that prompted Jobs to take medical leave in 2009.
Jobs had a liver transplant in 2009, and organ transplant recipients sometimes have recurring health issues for life, in part because they often must take immune-suppressing drugs to prevent organ rejection or graft versus host disease.
Jobs was noticeably thin following his transplant surgery in 2009, and he still appeared so at recent Apple events, something that did not go unnoticed.
But the CEO said last summer he was feeling “great,” in response to a question from a reporter.
Apple is due to report quarterly results on Tuesday, and is expected to say that revenues rose 50 percent as sales of its iPad tablet computer build on momentum of the popular iPhone and earlier iPod.