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What does Jobs’ departure tell us about Apple’s most recent quarter?

Apple’s chief executive Steve Jobs has decided to take a leave of absence from running the company, and his timing couldn’t be better.

Don’t expect the doomsday that some of the Technorati are predicting for the iPhone manufacturer’s shares. The company is slated to release data tomorrow about earnings from its most recent operating quarter, which includes the holiday season.

The last time Jobs decided to take a leave of absence, Apple’s shares plunged nearly 10 percent in extended trading. The U.S. exchanges are closed today, but the company’s shares aren’t faring well in international markets following Jobs’ announcement. Some exchanges reporting a drop of around 8 percent. On U.S. markets that would amount to a swing of around $28. It would be equivalent to a bloodbath and, given Apple’s presence on the consumer tech market, it could have a ripple effect on other tech stocks, driving them down.

We know Jobs is a shrewd executive. The announcement today was definitely a calculated one. By picking a day when U.S. markets are closed, he’s given traders a day to sit down and get a bit of a reality check about where the company is going now that it will once again be in the hands of chief operating officer Tim Cook. The guy did at least a half-decent job running the company the last time Jobs took a leave of absence, and Apple even tossed him a nice $22 million bonus for his troubles. And the company is readying to release its quarterly earnings report for the holiday season.

You can bet those earnings are going to be stellar.

Apple brought in more than $20 billion its last operating quarter and sold a whopping 14.1 million iPhones in its first full quarter selling the iPhone 4. The company also picked up a nice refresh for its iPods — bringing out a new Nano and a camera-equipped iPod touch that sports the iPhone’s retina display. Holiday sales fared quite well on both the online and retail fronts despite a still-shaky economy.

All in all, Jobs is taking time off at a very good time for the company. The iPad 2 is coming, the next iPhone is coming and Verizon has finally secured the rights to sell the iPhone on its network. Even in cruise control, this is shaping up to be another fantastic quarter for Apple.