January 5th, 2009
04:38 PM GMT
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NEW YORK – Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple Computer, finally went public Monday about the rumors surrounding his health.

Jobs has been the keynote speaker at MacWorld for the past 10 years.
Jobs has been the keynote speaker at MacWorld for the past 10 years.

In a letter to the Apple community Jobs said a hormonal imbalance is the cause of his weight loss and that "the remedy for this nutritional problem is relatively simple and straightforward."

Apple lovers around the world are certainly relieved to hear that. For months there has been speculation that a more serious illness was causing his gaunt appearances.

Jobs is a survivor of pancreatic cancer. The health rumors really kicked into high gear when Jobs announced for the first time in more than 10 years he would not give the keynote speech at Macworld, the annual user conference which is taking place the first week of January.

In his letter, Jobs said he decided to share this very personal news so that everyone could relax and enjoy the show. He was also no doubt feeling the pressure from investors who have been pushing Apple shares lower on fears that Jobs may not be able to continue.

It is clear from the tone of his letter that discussing his health so publicly is not something Jobs wanted to do.

In closing he writes, "So now I've said more than I wanted to say, and all that I am going to say, about this."

It got me thinking: Do CEOs have a right to privacy when it comes to health issues? When does a CEO's health stop being a personal matter and become a public issue? Many CEOs privately battle health issues including heart disease, diabetes even cancer and continue to thrive in their jobs.

Analysts have said that Jobs' situation is slightly different because he is the founder and considered the driving force of Apple's creativity. Some also say the succession plan for the company is less than clear and that puts more of an emphasis on Jobs' health and ability to serve.

In the letter, Jobs said he would be the first one to step up and tell his board if he can no longer fufill his duties as CEO. Despite that promise, I suspect his public appearance will be as important as any products the company releases in 2009.

Do you think Apple should provide regular medical updates about Jobs or should he be allowed to deal with these issues in private? Can the company thrive with or without him?

And finally, is anyone still betting Jobs makes a cameo appearance at the end of Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller's keynote? Perhaps one last thing one more time?

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January 5th, 2009
10:22 AM GMT
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Unless you were invested in government bonds or cash, 2008 was a brutal year.
Given the severity of the equity downturn in 2008, a case can be made for a rebound in 2009.
Given the severity of the equity downturn in 2008, a case can be made for a rebound in 2009.

The MSCI world index of 23 developed countries fell a record 42 percent. Emerging markets fared even worse, falling 54 percent in dollar terms.

So what happens in 2009? I think many of the same problems plaguing the global economy in 2008 will persist through 2009, including tight credit conditions.

Banks on their own won't loosen the lending spigot unless forced by governments. Consumers are feeling the pinch, although a sharp fall in petrol prices is giving some relief.

Analysts were too optimistic about earnings in 2008 and may be too optimistic about what happens this year, especially if credit remains tight.

In the U.S., profits at Standard & Poor 500 companies are expected to fall 11 percent in the first quarter, 6.2 percent in the second quarter and then rise in the second half of the year, helped by a rebounding financial sector, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

For the full year, profits should rise by 4.5 percent.

The worst performing group will be the energy industry where earnings are expected to fall 29 percent. Retailers will also be hard hit, earnings are expected to be down 20 percent.

In Europe, profits are expected to decline for the full year, but by less than one percent, compared to a fall of 17 percent this past year. Asian companies heavily dependent on exports will also be hard hit.

As one analyst put it: "No-one will be immune from this downturn. It's time to see who's losing least, not who's winning most."

Given the severity of the equity downturn in 2008, a case can be made for a rebound in 2009. Markets have already rallied sharply. The MSCI world index of 23 developed countries is up 23 percent from its November low.

Investors are betting low interest rates, and government stimulus will revive economies. Other factors include valuations.

I concede those with a long-term view are likely to make money but will have to stomach the volatility that's still likely to persist.

As you know I've been bearish for some time. For now I continue to remain out of the market, not so much out of conviction, like last year, but more out of where my comfort zone lies.

Tell me what you think. Do you think this is a good time to get back into the market? Do you think markets will be higher or lower by year end?

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