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As the third earnings season of 2010 starts turning its heavy gears, there's an early sign of life for the entire technology sector. Novellus (Nasdaq: NVLS ) , the maker of semiconductor manufacturing equipment, just posted a stellar second quarter -- and told us to expect more good news from the rest of the industry.
Sales bounced back from last year's gloomy lows with a 169% year-over-year improvement to $321 million. Order bookings landed at $385 million, producing a book-to-bill ratio of 1.2. That means more revenue in coming quarters, and is a data point of utmost importance to a manufacturing specialist like Novellus.
CEO Richard Hill predicted that we're at the start of a "multi-year recovery in the semiconductor equipment industry," thanks to global trends such as Chinese consumer strength and a worldwide "gentrification" of communications equipment. Networking specialists Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO ) and Huawei were singled out as shining examples of this growth vector, alongside Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) Windows infrastructure that hasn't been refreshed "since the mid-90s" and is now embracing Windows 7.
"We watch companies like Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) that leads the way," Hill said. "Cisco we look at, the [third-party foundries] of the world. They have an eye on their customers. We're watching our customers. And we think overall the trend is positive."
Indeed, Intel will confirm or undermine that world view when it reports earnings tonight, and I think it'll be the former, more optimistic option. Aside from buoyant consumer sentiment and rah-rah quotes like what we're getting out of Novellus, I'd like to point out that Intel's spokespeople took proactive steps to make sure I'm covering this earnings announcement. "Intel has posted earnings results above Street expectations for the last year," they told me. That's not the kind of heads-up you're handing out to the press if you expect to miss the next mark.
Like its larger semiconductor equipment peers Applied Materials (Nasdaq: AMAT ) and Lam Research (Nasdaq: LRCX ) , Novellus is an excellent leading indicator of where technology trends are going. And the only way is up, baby. Watch this industry in the coming quarters to see whether the semiconductor super recovery still has legs.
Do you read a different message in Novellus' tea leaves? Please share your insights in the comments box below.