Stop Playing the Guidance Game!

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Analog Devices is fabless. The article has been corrected and the Fool regrets the error.

Texas Instruments (NYSE: TXN  ) just reported a monster quarter in any sense of that phrase. Second-quarter sales skyrocketed 42% year over year to $3.5 billion (OK, $3.496 billion -- more on that later), and net income tripled to $0.62 per share. Future prospects still look good, too. TI saw incoming orders outpacing signed, sealed, and delivered product volumes; the book-to-bill ratio stands at a favorable 1.07.

Yet that still wasn't good enough for the Street. Shares took a 5% hit this morning, amid cries of "Disappointing! Give us more!"

TI didn't exactly miss estimates. Rather, the company failed to beat them. Sales were supposed to land at $3.512 million according to Thomson/Reuters polls, which makes the disappointment a mere rounding error to a precision of two decimals. TI does more than anybody to keep investors updated on the business outlook, and this quarter landed smack in the middle of the latest update range.

Maybe TI should rip a page from the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) playbook, and only issue guidance that it's 100% sure it will beat. Nah -- analysts will add their own expectations on top of that anyway, and besides, investors will only get called out as pessimists for being prudently cautious. Maybe the Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) way is better: never offering guidance at all? I don't know -- letting analysts make predictions with little or no management hand-holding seems even less reliable than Wall Street's normal, half-guessed assumptions. Any way you play it, forward guidance is a sucker's game.

The "new TI" is focusing on high-margin analog chips and high-performance mobile processors, while moving out of legacy businesses such as infrastructure chips for wireless phone services. Through a smart acquisition strategy, in which the company picks up manufacturing facilities across the globe for pennies on the dollar, TI has built a real competitive advantage over smaller competitor Analog Devices  (NYSE: ADI  )  and fabless rivals such as Qualcomm  (Nasdaq: QCOM  ) that pays off in times of tight chip supply -- like right now.

I don't give much weight to the guidance game, and I don't think you should, either. For the record, TI's worst division this quarter was the wireless segment, where operating profits more than tripled, while sales improved by "only" 18%. Cry me a river.

Oh, and next quarter's sales should land in the $3.55 billion-to-$3.85 billion range, with earnings between $0.64 and $0.74 per share. But take that forecast with a grain of salt.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletters services free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


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  • Report this Comment On July 21, 2010, at 11:08 AM, coopchex wrote:

    "TI has built a real competitive advantage over fabless rivals such as Analog Devices"

    I'm pretty sure ADI is NOT fabless. Please check your facts. Thanks

  • Report this Comment On July 21, 2010, at 1:36 PM, TMFKris wrote:

    @coopchex, we are fixing that error. Thank you for pointing it out.

    Kris -- TMF copyeditor

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