Jobs “had liver transplant”

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs underwent a liver transplant operation about two months ago and is expected to return to work by the end of June, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Jobs

Jobs, a pancreatic cancer survivor seen as the driving force behind the development of the iPod, iPhone and other category-defining products from Apple’s famed innovation machine, went on medical leave in January for an undisclosed condition.

A spokesman for Apple wouldn’t confirm the Journal report but said, “Steve continues to look forward to returning to Apple at the end of June and there is nothing further to say.”

While investors may react negatively to the when stock markets re-open on Monday, analysts say Wall Street is broadly prepared for Jobs’ shift to a role that sees him focusing on big pictures ideas and products at Apple.

Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook has been managing the company on a day-to-day basis in Jobs’ absence, and is expected to continue to do so if Jobs does not return to the role full-time.

The Journal, citing an unnamed source, said the 54-year-old Jobs may return to work part-time at first, with Cook taking on “a more encompassing role.”

“The situation seems a lot more complex than it originally appeared,” says Collins Stewart analyst Ashok Kumar. “Investors tend to react negatively to uncertainty, especially when it concerns an individual who’s had a larger-than-life impact.”

Others claim investors were aware of the risk surrounding Jobs and that it had been factored into Apple’s share price.

The technology firm’s stock fell after Jobs went on medical leave but is up around 60% this year, thanks to continued strong sales and new products, including the latest iPhone 3GS, which went on sale on Friday.

Erick Maronak, chief investment officer for the Victory Large Cap Growth Fund, which owns Apple shares, says investors are less concerned than in the past because other executives had stepped to the forefront in Jobs’ absence. “I think people are beginning to focus on core operations … I don’t think he’s as important in terms of near-term volatility,” Maronak says.

Full disclosure?

Apple has been dogged for months by rumours about Jobs’ health. In 2004, he was treated for a rare type of pancreatic cancer called an islet-cell, or neuroendocrine, tumour. These tumours usually grow slowly and are far less deadly than other types of pancreatic tumours.

Jobs’ gaunt appearance at an Apple event in the summer of 2008 sparked speculation about his health, which was fuelled by the crush of Apple blogs and fans that follow his every move.

In January, Jobs said his weight loss was due to a hormone imbalance and he would continue as CEO while being treated. Nine days later, he announced his medical leave, saying his health issues were “more complex” than previously thought.

Like many cancers, pancreatic cancer often spreads to the liver, compromising the vital organ’s functioning, but it is not clear if Jobs may have received a transplant for that reason.

Some shareholders in the past have complained about Apple’s lack of disclosure about Jobs’ health.

At the same time, legal experts say there is usually no responsibility on a company’s part to disclose a CEO’s health status, and it is up to boards to decide how much to reveal to shareholders and the public.

“Investors knew it was serious… uncertainty about his health has been in the marketplace and has been affecting the stock for two years,” says Patrick Coughlin, a trial lawyer at Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman Robbins in San Diego.

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