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Intel Gives Bullish Forecast on Data-Center Chip Demand

Ian King
Intel Gives Bullish Forecast on Data-Center Chip Demand

(Bloomberg) -- Intel Corp. gave an upbeat sales and profit forecast, citing improved demand for semiconductors that power cloud-computing data centers, and shrugged off concerns that the trade dispute between the U.S. and China is hurting the electronics industry.

The chipmaker late Thursday predicted fourth-quarter revenue and profit will come in ahead of analysts’ projections, sending the stock about 3% higher in after-hours trading. Intel also reported better-than-expected third-quarter results.

While Intel’s peers are reporting increasing difficulties amid the China-U.S. trade standoff, the company is benefiting from a rebound in orders for the lucrative server chips that run giant data centers. Intel’s customers are buying more of its priciest chips, boosting revenue even as the number of total units sold declined slightly. The company also committed to buying back an additional $20 billion of its own stock in the next 18 months, a move that Chief Executive Officer Bob Swan said underlines Intel’s belief that investors should have more faith in its growth plan.

“The headline number was impressive, ” said Stacy Rasgon, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. “The controversy will come around how much of this is sustainable.”

Demand for the company’s chips is “fundamentally strong,” Chief Financial Officer George Davis said in an interview. Unlike some other chipmakers, Intel isn’t seeing demand being hit by the trade tensions. Moves by some customers to stockpile chips ahead of tariffs that may increase prices doesn’t explain the majority of the improvements, he said.

“China was a modest positive relative to expectations,” he said.

Intel shares jumped as high as $56.95 in extended trading following the report. The stock had earlier closed at $52.23 in New York trading. Shares have gained 11% this year.

Sales in the third quarter were little changed at $19.2 billion, the Santa Clara, California-based company said. Analysts on average had predicted $18 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Net income was $6 billion, or $1.35 a share, compared with estimates for $1.17 a share. Gross margin, or the percentage of sales remaining after deducting the cost of production, was 58.9% in the quarter.

Revenue in the current period will be about $19.2 billion, and net income will be about $1.28 a share, Intel said Thursday in a statement. That compares with average analysts’ estimates of $18.9 billion and $1.16 a share. Shares climbed about 3% in late trading.

Intel’s stock price has lagged behind those of its peers in the Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index, which has gained 40% this year. The company has been struggling with manufacturing and supply problems and weaker underlying demand in the computer chip markets it dominates. Delays in bringing new production techniques online have given rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. the opportunity to roll out chips that may be better than big parts of Intel’s lineup.

Intel’s Swan and Davis told analysts that they haven’t seen a significant shift in the competitive environment. Swan committed to increasing the output of Intel factories next year so that customers get all of the chips they need. Shortages have been the company’s biggest problem this year, he said. The company will offer its first chip made with 7-nanometer-process technology in the fourth quarter of 2021 and is aiming to regain the lead in the introduction of new techniques.

Earlier this week, Texas Instruments Inc. gave a weaker-than-expected forecast and warned that trade tension is making customers far more cautious. On Wednesday, Xilinx Inc., a maker of programmable chips, said it’s still waiting for the U.S. government to approve its application for a license to ship some products to Huawei Technologies Co. and has been forced to exclude all revenue from the Chinese company from its financial targets.

Intel’s Xeon processors account for more than 95% of the market for chips that run servers, the machines that provide the backbone of the internet and corporate networks. In the third quarter, the data-center division posted revenue of $6.38 billion, a gain of 4%.

Intel’s data-center customers actually bought fewer chips -- volume in the division shrank 6% by units. The boost in revenue came from sales of more expensive models in the Xeon line, which lifted the average selling price by 9%.

Revenue at Intel’s Mobileye automotive-chip unit surged 20% from a year earlier to $229 million. Its internet of things division, which makes chips for connected devices outside of computers and phones, had revenue of $1.01 billion, up 9.4% from the same period in 2018. Memory also improved with sales up 19% at $1.29 billion.

Only its PC-chip unit had a decline, shrinking 5.1% to $9.7 billion in the recent period. Davis said that was related to Intel’s inability to meet some orders, something that the company aims to fix next year. Overall, worldwide shipments of PCs increased 1.1% in the third quarter, fueled by companies upgrading to Microsoft Corp.’s latest Windows software, researcher Gartner Inc. said earlier this month. Unit shipments climbed to 68 million units in the period that ended Sept. 30.

(Updates with analyst’s comments in fourth paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Ian King in San Francisco at ianking@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at jward56@bloomberg.net, Andrew Pollack

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