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EARNINGS PREVIEW: US Semiconductor Companies See Demand Rising

By Ben Fox Rubin Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES TAKING THE PULSE: Semiconductor companies faced plenty of problems in 2011, with natural disasters in Thailand and Japan interrupting the supply chain and with soft demand in Europe and the U.S. pressuring earnings in the second half. However, the industry is expected to see demand and earnings climb this year. Personal computers should benefit from a recovery in the hard-disk drive industry, which lost a significant amount of capacity due to severe flooding in Thailand. Still, the market remains vulnerable as a consumer transition to smartphones and tablets saps demand. Companies exposed to the hottest-selling mobile devices, especially the iPhone, should see strong results, but other suppliers tied to less-popular mobile devices are expected to suffer. COMPANIES TO WATCH: Intel Corp. (INTC) - April 17 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expect first-quarter income of 50 cents a share on revenue of $12.82 billion. A year earlier, Intel reported a profit of 56 cents a share, or 59 cents excluding write-downs and other items, on revenue of $12.85 billion. Key Issues: Intel, considered a bellwether for the broader industry because its chips run more than 80% of the world's PCs, posted record results in 2011 despite worries about demand. The company faces soft PC sales in mature markets like the U.S., and hard-disk drive shortages hurt manufacturers' ability to build computers. But the chip giant's data-center business, particularly servers, has been buoying results, and emerging markets such as China have been giving sales a lift. In addition, Intel hopes to revitalize the PC industry with thin and light laptops called Ultrabooks, and it's finally gaining some traction in the mobile market with its processors. Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) - April 18 Wall Street Expectations: Wall Street predicts a second-quarter profit of 95 cents with $4.84 billion in revenue. A year ago, the company posted income of 59 cents a share, or 86 cents excluding certain items, on revenue of $3.88 billion. Key Issues: Qualcomm has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of rising demand for smartphones, including the iPhone, and other mobile devices. It makes much of its profit on licensing patents based on its 3G technology and has been benefiting from consumers' move to more advanced devices, as well as increased adoption in emerging markets. As earnings growth has reached at least 20% for more than a year, Qualcomm last month approved a $4 billion stock buyback program and boosted its dividend by 16%. Future growth could also come from last year's $3.1 billion purchase of Atheros, which makes connectivity chips like Wi-Fi, as Qualcomm looks to play a bigger part in connecting smartphones to other devices, such as high-definition television sets. Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) - April 19 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts predict a per-share adjusted profit of 9 cents and revenue of $1.56 billion. Last year, AMD said its profit was 68 cents a share, or 8 cents excluding one-time items and gains in the valuation of Globalfoundaries, its primary manufacturer. Revenue was $1.61 billion. Key Issues: AMD has long competed against Intel in the chips that serve as the calculating engines in personal computers, and against Nvidia Corp. (NVDA) in chips that supply graphics for PCs and other products. The company has weathered a series of problems lately, particularly chip shortages stemming from manufacturing problems at Globalfoundries, the company formed by the spinoff of AMD's manufacturing operations. AMD last month restructured its relationship with Globalfoundries, triggering a $703 million charge for AMD but giving it more freedom to make some of its products elsewhere. The company also is hoping its new chief executive will be able to turn the company around and that its recent acquisition of server technology company SeaMicro Inc. will give it a boost. Texas Instruments Inc. (TXN) - April 23 Wall Street Expectations: Consensus estimates call for a first-quarter profit of 29 cents a share and revenue of $3.06 billion. Last year, Texas Instruments saw earnings of 55 cents a share on revenue of $3.39 billion. Key Issues: TI, which makes chips used in everything from cellphones to industrial equipment, has suffered from a broad-based decline in demand as customers worried about the economy. Though the company in January signaled that a bottom in sales had formed, it cut its cautious first-quarter outlook about two months later, citing lower-than-expected sales to wireless customers. The move came after TI cut its profit and revenue forecasts three times last year amid weak demand in all its end markets. The company is counting on last year's purchase of National Semiconductor to help boost its results in the analog chip market, providing chips that convert real-world signals to digital. Broadcom Corp. (BRCM) - May 1 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts expects a per-share profit of 56 cents in its first quarter with revenue of $1.8 billion. A year earlier, earnings were 40 cents a share on $1.82 billion in revenue. Key Issues: The provider of chips for set-top boxes, networking and smartphones in January projected mostly better-than-expected first-quarter revenue and said it was optimistic about its near-term growth. The company has benefited from its exposure to iPhone maker Apple Inc. (AAPL) and competing smartphone maker Samsung Electronics Co. (005930.SE, SSNHY). But its overall results have been hurt in recent periods by weakness at Nokia Corp. (NOK) and other major handset customers. Broadcom also has been expanding into networking, closing a $3.7 billion acquisition in February for NetLogic Microsystems Inc., a maker of network-focused processors, and agreeing to buy BroadLight Inc., a privately held provider of fiber access passive optical network processors, for about $195 million last month. (The Thomson Reuters estimates and year-earlier earnings may not be comparable due to one-time items and other adjustments.) -By Ben Fox Rubin, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-3108; ben.rubin@dowjones.com

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