Apple's Steve Jobs blames 'hormone imbalance' for weight loss

The CEO addresses talk about his health in open letter; treatment started

Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs said today that a hormonal imbalance has caused the weight loss that had fueled speculation he was seriously ill. He is currently undergoing treatment.

In a rare open letter to the Apple community, Jobs acknowledged his weight loss, but said his doctors believed, and tests had confirmed, that a "hormone imbalance has been 'robbing' me of the proteins my body needs to be healthy."

"This was a restrained way of doing it," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research Inc., when asked to comment on how Apple handled the news. "I just wish they had been quicker with it."

Apple had come under fire from several quarters since Jobs' health became a matter of concern to investors last June, when he appeared at Apple's annual developer's conference looking gaunt. Most talk centered around the possibility that he again had cancer. In August 2004, Jobs announced he had had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his pancreas.

After Jobs' June appearance, Apple officials pegged his weight loss to a "common bug" he had contracted. Some analysts found that explanation hard to believe and made repeated calls on Apple to come clean about the health of its CEO.

"It's my guess that it's been hard to diagnose," said Gottheil today in explaining why Apple had not spoken up before now. "They have a difficult job. They want to provide some disclosure, but there's nothing to be gained by disclosing uncertainty."

The treatment for his ailment, Jobs said in his letter, is simple and straightforward, but he did not spell out the details. He also noted that it will be months before he regains the lost weight. "Just like I didn't lose this much weight and body mass in a week or a month, my doctors expect it will take me until late this spring to regain it," Jobs said. "I will continue as Apple's CEO during my recovery."

In early trading Monday morning, Apple shares were up $2.74 to $93.49, a gain of 3%.

Although Apple had officially remained mum about Jobs' health since June, the CEO talked off the record with Joe Nocera, a reporter at The New York Times. Nocera reported only that Jobs' health problems "weren't life-threatening, and he doesn't have a recurrence of cancer."

Later incidents, including an obituary that was mistakenly published in August by the Bloomberg financial news service and a false report that he had suffered a major heart attack in October, sent Apple's stock tumbling. The October report, which had been posted to a CNN site populated with user-made content, pulled share prices down by nearly 11% before rebounding.

Just last week, a report labeled "rumor" by the Gizmodo gadget blog saying that Jobs' "health is rapidly declining" knocked Apple share prices down for part of a day.

Jobs noted the speculation and rumors that had surrounded his health. "My decision to have Phil [Schiller] deliver the Macworld keynote set off another flurry of rumors about my health, with some even publishing stories of me on my deathbed," Jobs said. "I've decided to share something very personal with the Apple community so that we can all relax and enjoy the show tomorrow."

In mid-December, Apple announced that this week's Macworld Conference & Expo, which swings into high gear tomorrow, will be its last. The company also said that Jobs, who traditionally offers a keynote speech at the show, would instead hand over that duty to Schiller, Apple's senior product marketing executive. That spurred even more rumors about Jobs' health.

Today, Jobs sought to reassure investors and customers. "I will be the first one to step up and tell our board of directors if I can no longer continue to fulfill my duties as Apple's CEO," he said. "I hope the Apple community will support me in my recovery and know that I will always put what is best for Apple first."

In a separate statement, Apple's board echoed Jobs and, as it has in the past, said the CEO retains its full support. "If there ever comes a day when Steve wants to retire or for other reasons cannot continue to fulfill his duties as Apple's CEO, you will know it," the board of directors said.

"Apple is very lucky to have Steve as its leader and CEO, and he deserves our complete and unwavering support during his recuperation. He most certainly has that from Apple and its board," the statement continued.

For his part, Jobs tried to close the door on any more talk about his health. "So now I've said more than I wanted to say, and all that I am going to say, about this," Jobs concluded his letter.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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