Intel forecast portends weak PC sales

SAN FRANCISCO Wed Jul 18, 2012 12:12am BST

A video wall displays Intel's logos at the unveiling of its second generation Intel Core processor family during a news conference at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas January 5, 2011. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

A video wall displays Intel's logos at the unveiling of its second generation Intel Core processor family during a news conference at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas January 5, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Rick Wilking

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Top chipmaker Intel Corp forecast weak current-quarter revenues, reinforcing fears that a wavering global economy and a lack of consumer interest are dampening personal computer sales.

Shaky economies in Europe and the United States and a growing consumer preference for Apple Inc's iPad tablets have been taking a toll on the PC industry.

The world's leading chipmaker cut its 2012 revenue growth forecast to between 3 and 5 percent, down from a prior forecast of "high single-digit growth". That put Intel's outlook in line with many investors' recently reduced expectations and helped cushion an initial sell-off of its stock.

"As macro events have transpired in the second quarter, people looked at the original high single-digit guidance as being stretched," said Craig Ellis, an analyst at Caris & Company. "The Street would have been concerned had they stuck with that guidance - but they didn't."

Fears that global PC sales may be worse than expected have helped push Intel's shares down about 10 percent since the end of April. They have recently traded around 10 times expected earnings.

Helping fuel fears of a PC slowdown, smaller Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices last week slashed its outlook for second-quarter revenue on disappointing sales in Europe and China, where economic growth has recently lost some steam.

China and other emerging markets have been a key source of growth in recent quarters, helping make up for weakness in the Europe and the United States.

"Emerging markets, especially China and Brazil, are still growing nicely but are moderating due to GDP adjustments and currency fluctuations," Intel Chief Executive Paul Otellini told analysts on a conference call.

He said consumer markets in Europe and the United States are expected to recover more slowly than previous forecasts. He also said global enterprise IT spending demand was expanding as expected.

Doug Freedman, an analyst at RBC, said Intel's forecast for the current quarter was less than typical for this time of year.

"Normal seasonal PC demand would show Q3 growth of at least 9 to 10 percent and Intel's guidance is comfortably below that," he said.

Intel supplies processors for 80 percent of the world's PCs but it has yet to make significant progress in fast-growing tablets or smartphones, products that use chips based on technology from British-based ARM Holdings.

Intel is heavily promoting a new category of "Ultrabook" laptops with premium features like solid-state drives that it hopes will add some zest to a PC market that some see as lacklustre compared to tablets and smartphones.

Many analysts are concerned the touch screens and other high-end features on upcoming Ultrabooks, made by Dell Inc, Asus, Hewlett-Packard Co and others will make them too expensive for some consumers.

Executives on the conference call suggested Intel has no plan to reduce its chip prices to make Ultrabooks more affordable, a move that would hurt gross margins.

Short-term PC sales may slow as some consumers consider putting off new purchases until Microsoft launches its new Windows 8 operating system, expected in October.

Intel said revenue in the second quarter was $13.5 billion (8.62 billion pounds), up from $13.03 billion in the year-ago period and lower than the $13.56 billion expected.

Intel said revenue in the current quarter would be $14.3 billion, plus or minus $500 million. Analysts on average had expected $14.60 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

GAAP net income in the second quarter was $2.8 billion, down from $2.95 billion in the year-ago period. GAAP earnings per share were 54 cents. Analysts had expected 52 cents.

Intel said non-GAAP gross margins in the second quarter were 64 percent. Intel maintained its full-year gross margin forecast of 64 percent.

Shares of Intel fell 1.5 percent in extended trading before paring losses. It had ended about 1 percent higher at $25.38 on Nasdaq.

(Reporting By Noel Randewich, additional reporting by Alistair Barr; Editing by Richard Chang)