The cost of a “complex” Jobs health issue: About $6 billion (so far)

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It should come as no shock that Apple’s stock is tanking following chief executive Steve Jobs’ announcement that he was taking a medical leave of absence until June to get to the bottom of his “complex” health issue. But just how much money is being shaved off of the company’s market cap because of the announcement is pretty staggering: Roughly $6 billion.

At 4:46 p.m., before Jobs’ announcement was made public, Apple’s stock stood at $85.60-a-share. By 5:00 p.m., just after the announcement hit, the stock had plummeted nearly 10 percent to $78.44-a-share. That’s almost $6.4 billion lost off the company’s market cap in 14 minutes.

The stock actually fell even further after the initial plunge; by 5:08 p.m. it was $77.94-a-share. Since then, it’s come back a bit and currently stands just a tad above the $80-a-share mark — still well below where it ended the trading day.

What will be interesting to see is what happens to Apple’s shares during tomorrow’s trading day. All of this volatility occurred in after-hours trading. The general market could react even worse tomorrow. Or perhaps not. After all, Jobs did set a timetable for his return (late June) and said that he would still be involved in key strategic decisions in his absence — but that chief operating officer Tim Cook will be running the day to day operations.

It’s also worth noting that Apple’s quarterly earnings call is exactly one week from today. That should be interesting to say the least.

It’s been said that no chief executive is as important to a company’s stock price as Jobs is to Apple’s, and that seems to have been proven today.

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