By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
October 20, 2009

So much for expectations. Apple (AAPL) blew past them all — its own and those of a crowd of increasingly bullish analysts — by reporting its most profitable quarter ever, earning $1.82 a share on revenue of $9.87 billion for the fourth fiscal quarter of 2009.

The Street was expecting quarterly earnings of $1.42 on revenue of $9.2 billion, according to Thomson Financial.

Apple’s shares exploded in after-hours trading. Having closed at $189.86, shares leaped more than 13 points in the next hour and 40 minutes to $202.87 — one thin dime away from the all-time high of $202.97 set in intraday trading on Dec. 27, 2007.

Sales for the year were a record $36.5 billion, up 12.5% from 2008. Earnings per share for the year topped $6.29, up more than 17% from the year before.

Strong sale of iPhones — following price cuts and the introduction of a new model — helped boost Apple’s earnings.

But the big surprise was the Macintosh. Apple sold 3.05 million Macs for in Q4 — a 17% increase from same quarter last year — thanks to its new Snow Leopard operating system, re-energized back-to-school sales and a big order from the state of Maine.

“We are thrilled to have sold more Macs and iPhones than in any previous quarter,” said Steve Jobs in a prepared statement.”

Highlights from Apple’s earnings report include:

  • Mac sales: 3.05 million units, up 17.3% year over year
  • iPhone sales: 7.4 million units, up 41% from last year
  • iPod sales: 10.2 million, down from just over 11 million a year ago
  • iPod touch sales were up 100% from last year
  • Gross margin: 36.3%, up from 34.7% last year
  • Cash: $34 billion, up $2.9 billion from $31.1 billion last quarter
  • Guidance for the December quarter: revenue between $11.3 and $11.6 billion, EPS between $1.70 and $1.78, gross margin 34%

Apple’s press release is available here.

A replay of the conference call will be available for the next two weeks, starting at 5 p.m. PDT. The instructions are here. Seeking Alpha has published a transcript here.

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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