Intel beats reduced earnings forecast; the PC isn’t dead yet

Intel reported earnings today for its fourth quarter, beating the reduced expectations for the busiest season of the year.

The report sheds light on sales for the whole PC ecosystem, since Intel is the world’s biggest chip maker and its results are a bellwether for the industry.

Intel reported earnings per share of 64 cents on revenues of $13.9 billion. A year ago, Intel earned 59 cents a share on $11.5 billion.

Intel itself had predicted it would make between $13.2 billion to $14.2 billion in revenue for the fourth quarter. On a non-GAAP basis, Intel reported net income per share of 68 cents. Analysts expected Intel to report 61 cents a share in net income (non-GAAP) on revenue of $13.74 billion. On Dec. 12, Intel warned that it was lowering expectations by $1 billion due to supply chain problems created by flooding in Asia. In Thailand, heavy monsoon rains left hard drive assembly factories under several feet of water. Production has resumed, but not without hiccups.

“2011 was an exceptional year for Intel,” said Paul Otellini, Intel president and chief executive, in a statement. “With outstanding execution the company performed superbly, growing revenue by more than $10 billion and eclipsing all annual revenue and earnings records. With a tremendous product and technology pipeline for 2012, we’re excited about the global growth opportunities presented by Ultrabook systems, the data center, security and the introduction of Intel-powered smartphones and tablets.”

The company saw some impact from the flooding in Thailand, which hurt shipments of hard disk drives. Since hard drives are a vital part of computers, computer makers couldn’t sell as many PCs, hurting sales of Intel’s microprocessors and other chips. But the impact wasn’t enough to completely ruin the quarter.

On a broader level, the PC market’s growth has slowed as consumers shift more of their computing to tablets and smartphones, where Intel is barely present in the market. Even so, Intel appeared to do a good job selling chips for traditional PCs in the quarter.

For the full year, Intel reported record revenue of $54 billion (up 24 percent) and net income of $12.9 billion (up 13 percent), or $2.39 a share.

In the third quarter, Intel reported $14.2 billion in revenue, up 28 percent from $3.1 billion a year ago. McAfee and Intel Mobile Communications contributed $1.1 billion in revenue to the company’s top line in the third quarter, and the numbers beat analysts’ $13.9 billion prediction for the quarter.

Its net income for the third quarter 2011 was $3.47 billion (or 65 cents per share), up from 2.96 billion (or 52 cents per share) from a year ago — a 17 percent increase.

On a sector basis in the fourth quarter, Intel’s PC Client Group reported revenue of $9 billion, up 17 percent. Data center group revenue was $2.7 billin, up 8 percent. Other Intel architecture group revenue was $1.1 billion, up 35 percent. Intel Atom microprocessor revenue and chip set revenue was $167 million, down 57 percent. McAfee and Intel Mobile Communications generated about $1 billion in revenue.

Last week, Intel said that Lenovo and Motorola would create smartphones based on Intel’s Atom microprocessors. That was the first real progress for Intel in smartphones after years of trying.

Meanwhile, Intel’s dominance in the PC market will be challenged later this year when ARM-based chip makers Qualcomm, Nvidia, and Texas Instruments ship chips that can run Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system on tablets and laptops. In the past, Windows has been available on the Intel-compatible x86 architecture.

For the first quarter, Intel expects revenue of $12.8 billion, plus or minus $500 million. Gross profit margin is expected to be 63 percent, plus or minus a couple of percentage points. Research and development spending is expected to be $4.4 billion.  For all of 2012, Intel expects a gross profit margin of 64 percent, plus or minus a few percentage points. Spending is expected to be $18.1 billion to $18.5 billion. R&D will be about $10.1 billion, and capital spending will be $12.1 billion to $12.9 billion.