Tuesday, January 6, 2009-- Apple chief executive Steve Jobs announced yesterday that he is afflicted with a protein-depleting hormone imbalance, and on Wall Street the news was greeted with a rally.
Share prices in the consumer electronics darling jumped 4 percent, as investors expressed relief that Jobs, the man many view as the power behind Apple's iconic product designs, isn't threatened by a recurrence of cancer, as had been feared. Instead, he has an ailment that, at least as it was described, sounds more benign.
Over much of the last year, Apple share prices have fluctuated on reports and rumors of the chief executive's well-being, a spectacle that at times has become a health watch with huge financial ramifications.
"On balance, this is good news," Yair Reiner, an analyst who follows Apple for Oppenheimer, said of the announcement. "There's no company for whom the CEO is more important. This suggests that Steve Jobs and Apple believe that he will be around for some time."
The announcement comes as Macworld Conference and Expo, the company's marquee marketing forum, opens in San Francisco with Apple participating for the final time. Apple said the trade show has become a minor part of how it reaches customers; more people than ever find the company through their stores and Web site.
Apple products, particularly the iPod and iPhone, have gained a rare kind of loyalty from customers, and much of the credit is given to Jobs's demanding leadership. He is reputedly relentless in his demands that Apple engineers make products that simplify technology, an approach that often gives the company's products a minimalist chic.
Concern about Jobs's health arose Dec. 16, when the company announced that he would not attend Macworld, a conference that he has addressed in his trademark black turtleneck for several years. Instead, the company is sending marketing chief Philip Schiller to make a presentation.
Apple's stock fell as much as 10 percent after the company made that announcement.
In 2004, Jobs received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and had surgery, which apparently was successful. Last June, however, Jobs appeared gaunt and the uncertainty over his health created new worries for investors. Stock prices suffered as a result.
Yesterday's announcement, though vague, was meant to quiet the newest rumors.
"Unfortunately, my decision to have Phil deliver the Macworld keynote set off another flurry of rumors about my health, with some even publishing stories of me on my deathbed," he wrote. "I've decided to share something very personal with the Apple community so that we can all relax and enjoy the show tomorrow."
In recent months, Jobs and the Apple board have declined to provide more information about the chief executive's health. Yesterday's announcement offered some details, but not enough to know what exactly is ailing Jobs, doctors said.
"As many of you know, I have been losing weight throughout 2008," his note said. "The reason has been a mystery to me and my doctors."
Jobs said that the cause of his troubles is a "hormone imbalance."
But that is by no means a specific medical diagnosis.
Three doctors contacted by the Post speculated that the ailment, or based on what little is known about it, could be "exocrine pancreatic insufficiency" -- meaning that his pancreas is not creating enough enzymes to absorb the fats and proteins that he consumes. It's an ailment commonly associated with pancreatic cancer surgery.
"It can cause severe weight loss," said Adrian Vella, associate professor of medicine in the endocrinology division at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. But "if managed correctly, it's not life threatening."
Roberto Salvatori, associate professor of medicine in the endocrinology division of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, also suggested the ailment, but questioned whether it would be described as a "hormone imbalance," because the malady stems from enzymes, not hormones.