San Francisco: Intel Corp’s quarterly results and outlook blew past Wall Street forecasts on better-than-expected consumer demand for PCs, especially in Asia, setting an auspicious tone for the technology sector.
Shares of Intel, the world’s largest chipmaker, jumped 8% on the report, driving Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index futures sharply higher and bolstering technology shares such as arch rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc.
Intel projected third-quarter revenue at $8.1 billion to $8.9 billion, compared with analysts’ average forecast of $7.8 billion, according to Reuters Estimates.
CFO Stacy Smith said fourth-quarter gross margins could scale the high end of a “normal” range - which Intel defines as 50 to 60% - due partly to declining production costs for new generations of chips and other factors.
Intel’s strong showing came despite what it described as weak demand from the corporations that traditionally are big buyers of computer equipment, and comments by Intel executives that Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows 7 operating system is unlikely to revive corporate spending this year.
“You have an $8 billion quarter with very little enterprise spending taking place,” said Broadpoint Amtech analyst Doug Freedman. “The consumer is healthier than we expected.”
Excluding charges for a European antitrust fine, Intel said it earned 18 cents a share in the second quarter, beating the average forecast of 8 cents according to Reuters Estimates.
Revenue in the three months ended June 27 was $8 billion, down 15% year-over-year, but well above the average $7.27 billion expected by analysts.
Smith told Reuters that computer markets were strengthening and there were “pockets of relative strength” in consumer PC markets, as well as in the Asia Pacific and in China.
The company forecast third-quarter gross margin at 53%, plus or minus 2% points, an improvement from the second quarter’s 51%.
“They guided gross margins for the third quarter of 53% and the whisper was 50% to 51%. A nice way to kick off earnings season for tech companies,” said Patrick Wang, an analyst at Wedbush Morgan.
Tach shares up
Intel posted a second-quarter net loss of $398 million, or 7 cents a share - its first quarterly loss since 1986 - after taking charges linked to a $1.45 billion fine imposed by European regulators, which ruled in May that Intel abused its market position to squeeze out AMD. Intel intends to appeal.
This time last year, Intel earned $1.6 billion in net income, or 28 cents a share.
Intel has felt the effects of the recession and a slowdown in IT spending, though Chief Executive Paul Otellini said in April that PC sales had “bottomed out” in the first quarter and that the industry was returning to seasonal business patterns.
Intel’s microprocessors are used in more than three-quarters of the world’s personal computers, so its results are a barometer for the global PC sector.
“This bodes well for the sector, which many believe looks inexpensive,” said Steve Neimeth, a portfolio manager at SunAmerica Mutual fund. “It bodes well for many of the large-cap tech companies like IBM, Microsoft and Cisco, which have correlation due to similarities in their end market.”
AMD stock jumped 4% after-hours. Microsoft shares rose 3%, Cisco gained 2% and IBM rose 1%.
Executives warned that the corporate market remained weak, and Intel does not expect much change in the second half.
Many PC companies remain under pressure as the global recession reduces demand and a new generation of inexpensive netbook PCs replaces sales of more expensive machines.
On Monday, Dell Inc, the world’s No. 2 PC maker, said its profit margins would decline modestly in the second quarter as demand has shifted to cheaper computers.
But Smith noted that Intel’s Atom chip, designed for netbooks, is cannibalizing no more than a fifth of the sales of its lowest-end notebook processor, the Celeron. Intel said revenue from Atom processors and chipsets soared 65 percent from the first quarter to $362 million.
Sales of microprocessors for laptop PCs rose 16.7% sequentially, and Intel said shipments of server processors were better than expected.
Intel had stopped providing official forecasts in January, limiting its comments to internal revenue targets. Smith said the resumption of forecasts was a sign that visibility had improved as order rates become more predictable.
“Intel has a much stronger seasonal second half. So the fact that Q2 is better than Q1 clearly puts the worst behind Intel,” said Broadpoint Amtech analyst Freedman.