Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) is about as blue a chip as you'll ever see. Look up "blue chip" in the dictionary, and you'll see an "Intel Inside" logo right next to caricatures of General Electric's (NYSE: GE ) CEO Jeff Immelt and a diagram of Exxon Mobil's world-leading market cap.
So, when Intel reports bad news and lowers its expectations, we should all panic and sell every share. No, no! Just kidding, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Intel's fourth-quarter sales dropped 23% from last year to $8.2 billion, and earnings per share shriveled by 89% to just $0.04 per share, but things could still be much worse. Management is taking a cautious tone, being careful not to boost our future hopes too far. This might actually be a great time to buy Intel.
The semiconductor mastodon sees gross margins shrinking to "the low 40s" in the next quarter, far below this quarter's 53.1%. Management didn't want to hand out revenue guidance because the uncertain macroeconomic conditions lead to very poor visibility -- financial guidance in a global crisis is kind of like driving in thick fog. That's how 70-car pileups happen, so perhaps it's better to say nothing at all. But for "internal purposes," Intel counts on about $7 billion in sales next quarter.
That's probably way too cautious an estimate, because Intel hasn't seen sales that slow since 2003. But if you do the math on those numbers, you'll see an Intel that looks a lot like Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD ) . Intel is prepared to work with thin operating margins, perhaps only 4%-9% based on their limited guidance, and within the same range as AMD's operating margin last quarter.
Most of this pessimism is probably prudent, given the dismal PC sales by everyone from Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) to Dell (NYSE: DELL ) . Low-cost netbooks are stealing the traditional PC and laptop's thunder; even server systems are feeling the pinch. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) is about the only American PC vendor that is still growing (albeit slightly), but still only accounts for about 7% of the market.
But this, too, shall pass. Today might not be the ideal time to buy Intel stock, because there will be ups and downs over the coming months and quarters. But come back in a couple of years, and you'll marvel at the (possibly missed) opportunity to buy a true blue chip on the cheap.