Can Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) Thrive Without CEO Steve Jobs?

This isn't the first time Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) Chief Executive Steve Jobs has given investors a scare.

And each time before, Apple has navigated the crisis – and soared to even greater heights.

Will that pattern repeat itself again? Or have Apple's fortunes soured this time around?

Jobs on Monday e-mailed Apple employees to say that he was taking time off for undisclosed medical issues.
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"I love Apple so much and hope to be back as soon as I can," Jobs wrote. "In the meantime, my family and I would deeply appreciate respect for our privacy."

Apple Chief Operating Officer Timothy Cook will oversee day-to-day operations in Jobs' absence.

U.S. markets were closed Monday to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But Apple shares fell 8% on German exchanges after the news broke. On Tuesday, the company's shares fell as much as 6.5% in U.S. trading, eradicating about $20 billion in market value, before corrected to close 2.25% lower than Friday's closing price.

"A lot of people will hit the ejection handle," Brian Marshall, an analyst at Gleacher & Co., told MarketWatch. "The stock will come under a lot of pressure."

The news was similar to Jobs' 2009 announcement that he was leaving for six months to undergo a liver transplant. On Jan. 14 of that year, Jobs admitted his health issues were "more complex than I originally thought," and Apple shares hit a low of $78.20 on Jan. 20. Then the stock rallied with the overall market, reaching $144.67 on June 5, 2009 and climbing to a record high $348.48 last Friday.

Jobs also left in 2004, after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Many investors say that Job's vision and hands-on stewardship of the company is directly responsible for Apple having been able to eclipse Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) in market value. Those same investors believe that Jobs' presence is vital for Apple's success, and worry that without him, the company's ability to innovate will wither.

Apple's tight-lipped policy on whom else is behind the booming success of such products as the iPhone and iPad also has frustrated investors. Highlighting the company's lesser-known supporting cast – including industrial designer Jonathan Ive, marketing guru Philip Schiller and iPhone software specialist Scott Forstall – might bolster investor confidence in Apple and its future.

"If you can show us the process behind the vision, and show that it's not all Steve Jobs, then I think the valuation will persevere," Kim Caughey Forrest, an analyst for the Fort Pitt Capital fund, told MarketWatch.

Investors also want to know more about Apple's plan for Jobs' successor to feel secure in the stock.

But many experts think Apple's product pipeline boasts enough technological advancement and creative energy to prevent a decline in value.

Apple followers are expecting a new version of the iPad in the spring, and the iPhone 5 in the summer. The company is also bringing the iPhone to Verizon Communications Inc.'s (NYSE: VZ) 93 million subscribers in February. 

This brings us to next week's Money Morning "Question of the Week": Do you think Apple can continue to thrive without CEO Steve Jobs? Why or why not? Are you bullish or bearish on Apple shares? Should the company be more open about its future, including a plan for Jobs' successor?

Send your answers to [email protected]. We want to hear from you!

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