Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Intel's Earnings: Not Much Has Changed in 10 Years

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.

The French saying, 'the more things change, the more they remain the same' tells the story of the last decade of semiconductor giant Intel's earnings. While media commentary was gushing with enthusiasm about Intel's first quarter earnings of 43 cents this morning, it went unmentioned that Intel had also reported earnings of 43 cents per share ten years ago in the first quarter of 2000.  Intel's stock price reached the $75 level in 2000; it is under $24 today.

While Intel's earnings have finally recovered to what they were at the top of the tech bubble, gross revenues have increased by more than 25% in the last decade. In the first quarter of 2000, Intel sold almost $8.0 billion in products, but last quarter it sold $10.3 billion. This improved Intel's operating income from $2.5 billion ten years ago to $3.4 billion today. Quarterly Income Before Taxes was $3.2 billion in 2000, but $3.5 billion last quarter. Whatever Intel earns today has a more significant impact on its per share earnings though. There were 6.7 billion shares of common stock outstanding at the end of the first quarter in 2000, while there are only 5.5 billion today. Stock buybacks during the lean times have paid off for the company.

Some things that haven't changed are the importance of Asia for the computer market and Intel's microprocessor sales. North America ceased to be Intel's largest market long ago. The CFO's commentary today on first quarter earnings noted that Asia Pacific, Japan and Europe performed better than seasonal patterns would have predicted. The Americas experienced a larger than seasonal revenue decline from the fourth quarter. So if Intel's first quarter results indicate economic recovery, as many in the media suggested, that recovery is taking place in Asia, not in North America.

Semiconductors have always been a cyclical business. Stock prices for semi companies tend to decline before peak earnings in the cycle. Intel's stock is up nicely today on its earnings news, so it is quite possible business is still heading up. The longer-term picture on the other hand seems to have changed dramatically. Intel was leading a rapidly growing industry in the 1980s and 1990s. The last ten years have been fairly stagnant, although characterized by significant ups and downs. Based on stock price, the market isn't nearly as happy today with 43-cent quarterly earnings from Intel as it was ten years ago.

Disclosure: No position in Intel

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. Like all other postings for this blog, there is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

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