Investors seem to be getting comfortable with Apple Inc's stable of executives amid uncertainty about Steve Jobs' return to the helm of the consumer electronics titan he founded.
Apple shares have surged in the 10 weeks since Jobs stepped away on a five-month medical leave.
The stock is up more than 45 percent since it bottomed out at a two-year low on January 20, days after Jobs, a pancreatic cancer survivor, announced he would hand over day-to-day duties to lieutenant Tim Cook to seek treatment for an undisclosed condition.
The management team is pretty good, said Bob Turner, chief investment officer for Turner Investment Partners. I would say don't short-change the team that's in place now.
But some experts say there is enough doubt in the market about an Apple without Jobs that the company's stock trades 10 percent to 20 percent below what it would if the charismatic chief executive were at the helm.
Apple's cash hoard comes to nearly $29 a share, and the company's revenue is expanding when rivals like Sony to Dell are cutting jobs to tide them over a deepening recession.
Analysts and investors expect the stock to get another bump if Jobs returns in June as planned.
But many also note that investors are becoming far more comfortable with the company's executive team, once noticeably on the sidelines but becoming more visible in Jobs' absence.
I'm not about to make an investment decision based solely on his health, said Erick Maronak, chief investment officer for the Victory Large Cap Growth Fund, which held 1.5 million Apple shares as of the end of 2008.
Maronak agrees that many investors are already assuming Jobs will not return as CEO. However, he said he was more focused Apple's strong balance sheet and on its leadership position in every segment where it competes.
Turner said Apple shares were undervalued, reflecting market skepticism about Jobs' role. But he was more interested in what the company plans to do with its more than $25 billion in cash.
Apple shares are notoriously volatile, fueled by a universe of bloggers who transmit every rumor and whisper, and closely monitored by global tech investors.
Speculation about Jobs' health has run rampant since he appeared dramatically thinner at an event in June, when Apple shares were trading at around $182.
The stock had fallen to $85.33 by the January 14 market close, just before Jobs announced his medical leave. It continued to drop until it hit the January 20 trough of $78.20.
Shares have been ticking up steadily since then, closing at $115.99 on Friday for a 48 percent gain. Meanwhile, the Nasdaq Composite Index had risen less than 13 percent.
When he stepped away in January, Jobs said only that his health issues were more complex than he had thought.
There has been silence since then, and the company has said Jobs remains deeply involved in decision-making, while Cook, the chief operating officer, is handling day-to-day operations. The company declined to comment for this story.
Apple has made plenty of headlines since by refreshing its desktop line, launching a new iPod shuffle and unveiling a new iPhone operating system. There is also growing excitement about a touchscreen device the company is said to be developing.
The stock is reflecting that he does not come back to a full-time 24-hour-a-day CEO, said Jane Snorek, senior technology research analyst at First American Funds, which owns a total of 340,000 Apple shares.
They're the best company in consumer electronics with or without him, she said, but with him you just have more confidence that that'll continue for much longer.
In recent months, investors have seen much more of the other executives, who have stepped in to speak at events that have traditionally been forums for Jobs' legendary pitches.
Cook presided at the annual meeting in February, while Phil Schiller, senior vice president of marketing, gave the keynote speech at the annual Macworld convention in January. IPhone software Senior Vice President Scott Forstall presented at an event for the smartphone last month.
We've seen a bit more of them than we have in the past ... it gives people a little more comfort, said Pacific Crest Securities analyst Andy Hargreaves. (Jobs') departure is a less important variable now than it was four months ago or six months ago.