Apple has returned its best financial quarter in its history, with fourth-quarter revenue hitting $3.68 billion, up from $2.35 billion in last year's fourth quarter.

“We’re thrilled to have concluded the best year in Apple’s history, with 68 percent year-over-year revenue growth and 384 percent net profit growth,” said Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

“This is the direct result of our focus on innovation and the immense talent and creativity at Apple. We could not be more excited about the new products we’re working on for 2006.”

Financial analysts had expected the company to return $3.73 billion in revenue. Though revenue fell short of expectations, iPod shipments were up an astounding 220 per cent compared to last year's fourth quarter. Apple shipped 1,236,000 Macs and 6,451,000 iPods during the quarter, representing 48 per cent growth in Macs and 220 per cent growth in iPods over the year-ago quarter.

Apple's fourth-quarter profit was $430 million, or $0.50 in earnings per share. This compares to profit of $106 million, or $0.13 per share, last year. The profit numbers included a $0.12 per share benefit related to revisions in Apple's tax accounting. Excluding the benefit, earnings per share were $0.38, slightly ahead of analyst estimates of $0.37 per share.

For the full year, Apple recorded $13.93 billion in revenue and $1.34 billion in profit, both of which were company records, Apple said.

Gross margin was 28.1 per cent for the quarter, up from 27 per cent in the year-ago quarter. International sales accounted for 40 per cent of the quarter’s revenue.

The company expects revenue of $4.7 billion and earnings per share of around $0.46 for the upcoming quarter.

“We’re very pleased to report 48 percent year-over-year growth in Mac shipments in the fourth quarter, as well as our tenth consecutive quarter of record iPod sales,” said Peter Oppenheimer, Apple’s chief financial officer.

“Looking ahead to the first quarter of fiscal 2006 which will span 14 weeks, we expect revenue of about $4.7 billion. We expect GAAP earnings per diluted share of about $.46, including an estimated $.03 per share expense impact from non-cash share-based compensation, translating to non-GAAP EPS of about $.49.”