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In the cutthroat market for mobile processors, MIPS Technologies (Nasdaq: MIPS ) always looks like the little engine that could. Long on promise but chronically short on real-world results, MIPS was not just one of the worst semiconductor stocks to own in 2011, but the top-dog worst performer on that exclusive list.
The company reports second-quarter results after market close on Wednesday. Will this quarter mark the start of the turnaround that MIPS investors so sorely need today?
Analysts expect the chip architecture designer to report non-GAAP earnings of about $0.03 per share on sales of roughly $16 million. Management would nod along in agreement as both numbers fall inside official guidance ranges. But it's hardly a Champagne-cork forecast; the year-ago quarter saw earnings of $0.14 per share on 33% higher sales.
CFO Maury Austin explained that gloomy forecast with an opaque outlook: "Looking forward to the balance of our fiscal '12, we believe the outlook in the consumer electronics market, the networking infrastructure market, and the economy in general remains uncertain."
In other words, the company doesn't expect the fog to lift until the end of the fiscal year, which still is two quarters down the road.
Fellow Fool Evan Niu worries that MIPS' strategy of attacking the low end of the mobile market in China may not pay dividends. As long as the company is stuck navigating that suboptimal market, larger rival ARM Holdings (Nasdaq: ARMH ) has free reign over the rest of the world.
Investors seem to agree with Evan's assessment, as MIPS shares traded down nearly 4% on Monday. There was no particular news to explain the big move, except that big, scary announcement circled in the calendar. But I lean the other way.
My thumbs-up CAPScall on MIPS is hurting me at the moment, as I caught a falling knife last summer. But the company is on equal footing with ARM in the Android consortium and may very well power the next reference design for Android smartphones and/or tablets. There's already a slow trickle of MIPS-powered phones and tablets coming to market, not to mention the company's traditional stronghold in smart TV sets and set-top boxes.
Lastly, MIPS technologies are often found in embedded chips like networking processors. On that front, French 4G networker Sequans (Nasdaq: SQNS ) recently up and left the ARM camp to start a new line of MIPS-powered WiMAX and LTE products.
This doesn't add up to a terrific second-quarter report by any means, but the long-term story is exciting. That's why my bullish CAPScall stays in my All-Star CAPS portfolio. My Android-leaning thesis will just take a couple of years to develop.
Only time will tell where these chips may fall. In the meantime, there are plenty of slam-dunk winners in the mobile computing race. You'll find three surprising examples in this special report, modestly known as "3 Hidden Winners of the iPhone, iPad, and Android Revolution." Just click here to learn more -- it's totally free for Fools.