Intel cuts forecast as China data center sales remain weak

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Chipmaker Intel Corp on Thursday cut its full-year revenue forecast and missed analysts’ estimates for first-quarter sales for its higher-margin data centre business, sending its shares down as much as 7.5%.

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The forecast adds to concerns that an industry-wide slowdown could persist until the end of 2019 and follows a similar warning earlier this week from chipmaker Texas Instruments Inc .

Intel marginally beat Wall Street targets for revenue and profit in the fiscal first quarter, but sales in the data center group unit fell 6.3% to $4.9 billion, hit by weakness in China as customers worked through stockpiles of chips purchased last year. Analysts had expected revenue of $5.1 billion, according to financial and data analytics firm FactSet.

“The data center rebound the company was banking on for back-half (of 2019) improvements doesn’t look like it’s going to happen,” said Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy.

The company has turned to the server chips it supplies data center operators for growth in recent years. Chief Executive Bob Swan said in an interview that customers in China had “absolutely” bought extra chips last year due to fears of a tariff or supply constraints owing to the U.S.-China trade dispute.

“The belief at the time was that they were ordering well ahead of what they’re real needs were, but the expectation was that they would consume that over the course of Q4 and Q1,” Swan said. “But today we think … it’s not being consumed quite at that level; there’s going to be another quarter.”

The chipmaker cut its 2019 revenue forecast to $69 billion, from the $71.5 billion it told investors to expect when it last reported earnings in January.

A year-long U.S.-China trade war and weakening smartphone sales have taken a toll on the global semiconductor industry. Investors are banking on the launch of 5G telecom networks and demand for chips used in self-driving vehicles to reignite growth. To that end, Swan said a 30% boost in so-called programmable chips that go into 5G networking equipment showed early gains for Intel in the technology but that the bulk of chip sales were yet to come.

Shares of rival chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices Inc rose 1.5% in extended trade after Intel’s report, while graphics chipmaker Nvidia Corp fell 2.5%.

Intel’s business unit that sells modem chips to connect Apple Inc’s iPhones to wireless data networks was a growth spot. This is despite Intel’s announcement last week that it would exit the market for 5G modem chips. The news came the same day that Apple resolved a long-standing dispute with Qualcomm Inc and the companies signed a chip supply agreement.

Swan said Intel expects to continue shipping 4G modems though, as is customary for Intel, he did not mention Apple by name.

“Our expectation is we will continue to deliver on the 4G modem throughout the course of this year, including the second iteration of that product coming in the fall back-to-school season,” Swan said.

The Santa Clara, California-based chipmaker also estimated profit of 89 cents per share on revenue of $15.6 billion for its second quarter that ends in June, compared with analysts’ expectation of $1.01 per share on $16.85 billion.

“As bad as the outlook is for 2Q19 and FY19 due to weaker macro softness, we think there remains further headwinds due to the increased competitive threat from AMD into 2H19 and 2020,” said Kinngai Chan, an analyst with Summit Insights Group.

Net income fell to $3.97 billion, or 87 cents per share, from $4.45 billion, or 93 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, the company earned 89 cents per share, beating analysts’ estimate of 87 cents.

Revenue in Intel’s client computing business, which caters to PC makers and still the biggest contributor to sales, rose 4.45% to $8.59 billion, beating FactSet estimates of $8.38 billion.

Intel shares were trading down 7.5% at $57.61 after the bell.



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