Intel’s 3Q12: softness continues


After the close of equity trading in New York yesterday, INTC reported its 3Q12 earnings results.

Revenues were flat, quarter on quarter, at $13.5 billion, during the typically seasonally stronger 3Q.  The same with operating expenses.

EPS came in at $.60 vs. $.57 for 2Q12, based largely on a lower than expected tax rate (implying to me that business was stronger than expected in emerging markets, weaker in the US and EU).

The numbers were considerably better than the downward revision to guidance that INTC announced in early September.  At that time INTC expected revenue of $13.2 billion and EPS (my estimate) of $.52-$.54 (see my post on the pre-announcement).

Year on year, results were down.  3Q11 revenues were $14.2 billion, EPS $.65.

The stock fell about 3% in the aftermarket Tuesday.  In the Wednesday premarket, it’s about the same, while S&P futures are flat.



Demand for PCs in the US, EU and China continues to be lackluster.  As a result, INTC’s customers, the machine manufacturers, continue to pare chip inventories.  This is typical behavior:  the buyer gets the sniffles, the component manufacturer gets pneumonia.   But INTC customers appear to be shrinking inventories to even lower levels than the company anticipated a month ago, implying their ability to read end-user buying intentions is especially low.

Business did pick up a bit in September in anticipation of Windows 8.

Demand for servers from corporations has also begun to slow down, as company cash flows flatten out due to the current deceleration in global economic growth.  This is a new element in the INTC story, although not a huge surprise.  No matter what anyone says–including the companies–corporations usually don’t borrow to fund capital expenditures.  Spending is a function of the cash flows that operations generate.

Cloud computing remains very strong.


Visibility is very low.

INTC appears to expect that 4Q12 will more or less mirror 3Q12.  The company normally keeps inventories of just over a month’s sales.  It now has 5%-10% too much.  It will slow down manufacturing a bit during 4Q12, as a result.  This won’t affect revenues.  But the company will shut some production lines and shift the machinery to new leading-edge uses.  This will mean lower capex during the quarter, as well as an unspecified amount of equipment writedowns.

During 1Q13, INTC will begin another of its bi-annual production upgrades–which will mean lower gross margins by a few percentage points for a quarter or two as the company gets the new lines up to speed.

earnings guesses

I’m pencilling in $.60 (excluding writedowns) for 4Q12, which would mean full-year EPS of $2.33.  I’m thinking that 2013 will bring a minimum of $2 a share, with $2.50+ likely if the global economy begins to reaccelerate.

the stock

Since the bottom for the S&P in June, the index is up about 14%.  Over the same time span, INTC is down by 14%.  Most of the damage has happened since mid-August, when the global slowdown became more apparent.

At $22 a share, INTC is trading at 9x trailing earnings and at, I think, at most 10x what it can earn in 2013. INTC shares now yield 4%, a full percentage point above the 30-year Treasury.

I’m surprised that the stock has performed as poorly as it has.  I’d thought INTC might give up some of its run to $29+, but I’d expected it to settle in around $25 or so.

That’s clearly been wrong.  And it’s always a danger signal when a stock doesn’t do what you expect.

As far as I can see, the current earnings weakness has revived all the old fears that INTC products have no place in a post-PC world dominated by tablets and smartphones.  And this, rather than business-cycle softness, is what’s causing the sharp underperformance of INTC shares.

It’s possible that the negative scenario will turn out to be true.  I continue to think, however, that INTC shares are now being priced as if that outcome were a certainty–that ultrabooks and INTC’s forays into tablets and smartphones won’t be successful.  So I’m continuing to take the contrary bet–noting, though, that there are risks in saying that everyone’s out of step but me.

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