Intel (NASDAQ: INTC ) just reported third-quarter results, and the stock didn't really react. Intel's chart squiggled up and down all day, generally just below the general market's politically fueled rally. The stock closed up a modest 1.3%.
It's an ambivalent response to an ambiguous report. Intel reported $13.5 billion in sales, right at the midpoint of its own guidance, and on the nose of analyst targets. That's a solid, if unspectacular, performance, but somewhat disappointing in light of recently rosy PC-market reports.
On the other hand, earnings jumped 49% year over year, landing at $0.58 per share. That's far ahead of Wall Street's $0.51 targets, driven by surprisingly strong gross margins. Rising average unit prices added 0.5 percentage points to the gross-margin picture.
If that bad news/good news combo doesn't have your head spinning yet, just wait for Intel's next-quarter guidance. The revenue target range centers around $13.7 billion, significantly below analysts' $13.9 billion estimate. Moreover, Intel's management would be surprised to see those strong gross margins sticking around -- the top end of that guidance range is just a smidge above the third-quarter's actual result.
Before the report, I suggested that investors should look for two things above all else: Strong revenues, and some sign of a renewed dividend commitment. Intel struck out on the first point by barely meeting internal and Wall Street targets.
Unfortunately, Intel disappointed on the dividend front, as well. Management didn't mention its forward dividend or buyback plans, and the report included only a partial cash flow statement. In short, Intel did nothing at all to reassure nervous investors, like yours truly, that the paused dividend growth will resume any time soon.
Like I said, I'm getting nervous. The positive surprises in this report come from market-driven details like selling prices. Management doesn't have full control of these inputs, and guidance numbers say that the good times may not be sustainable.
Archrival Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ: AMD ) saw its share price jump 1.5% higher on Intel's report. No, Advanced Micro Devices didn't do or say anything awesome to deserve this market-beating jump. AMD reports its own results on Thursday night.
Today's market reaction says that Advanced Micro Devices investors smell opportunity in Intel's mixed messages. If third-party PC-market reports point to reasonably strong sales, but Intel comes up short, then AMD will pretty much have to provide the missing chips. Keep an eye on Advanced Micro Devices' report to confirm -- or refute -- this theory.
In the meantime, I'm getting nervous about Intel's commitment to shareholder-friendly policies. If the company needs to conserve cash right now, then fine... just come out and say so. Instead, we're getting stonewalled.
I'm not likely to panic and sell my Intel holdings at this point, but CEO Brian Krzanic is on notice: If I don't see some solid dividend-supporting language in next month's investor meeting, I'll take that as Intel's board and management lacking confidence in the long-term business plan.
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