How much will Apple fall on Tuesday?

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Chart: CNNMoney

By now you’ve heard the bad news from Apple. Steve Jobs is taking another medical leave of absence. It may be callous, but not surprising, that investors are fearing the worst. Apple, after all, has transformed itself from a niche computer company to the most important tech firm on the planet since Jobs reclaimed the CEO spot in 1997.

Shares of Apple are not trading in the U.S. because of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. But over in Germany, Apple’s thinly traded stock fell nearly 8% on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.

Shares of Apple hit an all-time high of $348.48 on Friday. Brian Marshall, an analyst with Gleacher & Co. who follows Apple, said in an e-mail that the stock probably has a floor of around $300 due to the Jobs news. That’s about 15% lower than current levels.

It will be an interesting day, to say the least, on Tuesday. Apple is due to report its latest quarterly results after the closing bell, but it seems safe to say that the focus will be more on Jobs’ health than on iPad and iPhone sales.

But investors would be wise to not lose sight of the fact that Apple is likely to report a blockbuster quarter. Sales are expected to increase more than 55%, with analysts forecasting an earning per share jump of 47%.

What’s more, Apple is being left in the more than capable hands of COO Tim Cook (who many HP investors wanted to become its new CEO following Mark Hurd’s ouster) while Jobs is on leave. That’s exactly what happened when Jobs took his last leave in 2009.

For what it’s worth, Apple investors didn’t panic too much two years ago. While the stock fell as much as 6% the day after Jobs announced his leave, shares wound up finishing that day (January 15, 2009) with only a 2% loss. Jobs returned to Apple on June 30. While he was out, Apple’s stock soared 67%.

Jobs is undeniably the heart and soul of Apple. But Cook is no slouch …. nor are the scores of many other smart engineering and marketing people that work for the company. — Paul

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