Chip giant Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) is the latest company to get dragged kicking and screaming into the global recession. In the last quarterly update, about a month ago, management felt cautiously optimistic, guiding us toward strong sales in the fourth quarter. Its estimates ranged from $10.1 billion to $10.9 billion, leaving the possibility for modest growth over last year's $10.7 billion.
Well, scratch that. Intel is singing a new song, and this quarter's sales now look like they're staying below $9.3 billion. Gross margin is dropping back to approximately 55% or so, down from expectations north of 59%.
Management blames slow orders across "all geographies and market segments." Emerging markets aren't riding to the rescue this time, and neither high-margin server chips nor its profitable and popular notebook processors have the clout to pull Intel out of this dive. In my opinion, this data means that Intel will likely come in lower than last year’s GAAP number of $0.38. It also may end up being lower than last quarter’s $0.35.
And now we wait. I think Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD ) may chime in with a gloomy update of its own someday soon. It's hard to believe that AMD simply took several hundred million dollars' worth of business in one quarter from its competitors. Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) and Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) both report earnings later this month, and both should have a lot to say about worldwide demand for their servers, desktops, and laptops. What IBM (NYSE: IBM ) and Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) think matters, too, but those guys don't report until mid-January.
But Intel remains a solidly profitable blue chip, with shares selling at a very attractive earnings multiple right now -- at least for an American company. This storm-stricken harbor will be safe again. In the meantime, enjoy the cut-rate docking fees.