CUPERTINO, California (Reuters) - Apple (AAPL.O) Chief Executive Steve Jobs remains deeply involved in company decisions despite ceding control over operations, executives told shareholders, while waving off questions about reports of a regulatory probe into disclosure.
In a one-hour annual meeting at the firm’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, executives cautiously adhered to previous statements while fielding questions about Jobs’ health — a subject of persistent market speculation.
But they declined to answer questions about reports that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was examining Apple’s conduct in disclosing Jobs’ health problems, which will keep the widely respected executive sidelined till at least June.
Facing a prolonged recession and drought in consumer spending, Apple has been unable to shake questions regarding the future of its charismatic CEO, who has been on medical leave and out of public view for more than a month.
Jobs — who co-founded Apple and is credited with transforming it into a consumer juggernaut after returning as CEO a decade ago — announced in January that he would take a five-month leave of absence, handing over the reins of the firm and saying his health problems were “more complex” than originally thought.
“Nothing has changed” since that announcement, co-lead director Arthur Levinson said in response to shareholders’ questions at the firm’s headquarters in Cupertino, California.
Legal experts say Apple could face lawsuits over its health-related disclosures — or lack thereof — although that part of the law is seen as something of a gray area.
Still, the mood at Wednesday’s annual meeting was casual. Shareholders joined in a “Happy Birthday” chorus for Jobs, who was absent but turned 54 on Tuesday.
In 2004, Jobs was treated for a rare type of pancreatic cancer. He appeared gaunt at an Apple event in June 2008, touching off speculation that his cancer had returned. The company has not managed to completely quash that speculation.
The global economic slowdown has crushed consumer spending, and Apple’s array of pricey Macintosh computers, iPhones and iPods is starting to feel the pinch. Analysts say the company needs to launch a new blockbuster product this year to help galvanize growth.
Editing by Edwin Chan, editing by Gerald E. McCormick