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Intel beat analysts’ expectations for its earnings for the first quarter today, getting the new year of PC chip sales off to a good start.

Revenues for the quarter slightly exceeded expectations at $12.9 billion, compared with $12.87 billion a year ago. Earnings were $2.7 billion, or 53 cents a share, compared with $3.2 billion, or 56 cents a share, a year ago. Analysts expected Intel to report revenue of $12.84 billion, compared with $12.8 billion a year ago. Earnings were expected to be $2.5 billion, or 50 cents a share.

In after-hours trading, Intel’s stock price fell 2.5 percent to $27.77 a share.

The quarter was affected in part by slowing growth in the PC market, which has been hurt by sales of tablets. Sales have also been hobbled by a shortage of hard disk drives. Tech-research firm Gartner said that PC sales in the first quarter were up 2 percent in unit shipments.

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Intel generated $3 billion in cash from operations, paid $1 billion in dividends, and used $1.5 billion to repurchase stock.

“The first quarter was a solid start to what’s expected to be another growth year for Intel,” said Paul Otellini (pictured at top), Intel president and chief executive. “In the second quarter we’ll see the first Intel-based smartphones in the market, ship products based on 22nm tri-gate technology in high volume, and accelerate the ramp of our best server product ever, providing a tremendous foundation for growth in 2012 and beyond.”

Chief financial officer Stacy Smith said that hard drive shortages affected first-quarter sales, as they did in the fourth quarter. But he said that the impact on the PC market was not as severe as expected. Intel’s PC client and server chip businesses were down, but Intel is in the verge of launching Ivy Bridge, a new graphics-microprocessor combo chip that will likely see high demand starting the second quarter.

“Overall it was a good quarter, given they had begun transitions of both PC and server lines,” said Patrick Moorhead, analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. “Q2 is big for Intel with new Ivy Bridge Ultrabook solutions shipping into the channel for spring, Romley (serverchips) continuing to ramp, new micro-server lines, and three new cellphone customers shipping phones to end consumers. If they can execute well, they should be set for a good year given Windows 8 ships for the holiday buying season.”

For the second quarter, Intel expects revenue of $13.6 billion, plus or minus $500 million. Gross profit margin percentage will be 62 percent on a GAAP basis, or 63 percent non-GAAP. Research and development spending will be $4.6 billion in the second quarter.

For the full year, Intel is targeting GAAP gross profit margin percentages of 64 percent and 65 percent non-GAAP. R&D plus acquisitions will be $18.3 billion, and capital spending will be $12.5 billion. Intel will report second-quarter earnings on July 17.

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