Tell it to me slowly
Tell you what?
I really want to know
It's the time of the season for earnings!
-- With apologies to The Zombies for messing around with their 1968 hit "Time of the Season"
Ah yes, it's time to focus on a steady stream of earnings reports once again. By time-honored tradition, semiconductor giant Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) is one of the first out of the gate, set to issue a first-quarter report on Tuesday night. The fourth quarter brought a sad tale of lower sales and shrinking income.
The market for computer-brain microprocessors may be turning around already, though. Technology research outfit Gartner (NYSE: IT ) notes that semiconductor specialists that don't specialize in the kind of chips that power our laptops, desktops, and servers experienced massive drops in sales in 2008. Samsung's annual semiconductor revenue dropped by 15%, while Toshiba and Texas Instruments (NYSE: TXN ) lost about 10% of their sales volumes.
But Intel held steady throughout the year. The company is making up in volume what it's losing on average selling prices. While the company has experienced a slight dip in revenue recently, there's some upside to the situation. Intel's overall revenue slump comes partially from spinning out its huge flash memory operations into Numonyx, a joint venture with STMicroelectronics (NYSE: STM ) . These guys picked a good time to divest from the disastrously unprofitable memory-making racket.
On a more positive note, Intel's new products appear to be taking off. Low-cost, low-power "netbooks" from the likes of Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) and Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) are shoring up the unit-level demand for new computers and the Intel Atom chips that often power them. A fresh shot of top-notch server chips may reignite the sagging server and workstation markets.
All told, Intel remains a class act with solid assets and prospects. I believe in an upturn before autumn, and if we're anywhere near the bottom of this market, Intel looks like a safe bet to make you long-term profits. Many of the same market conditions also play into the hands of archrival Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD ) -- if you're into higher-risk, higher-reward investing.
Let's see what Intel says on Tuesday. This could be the beginning of the end of this semiconductor crash. With its new innovative processor lines and savvy use of capital during the downturn, look for Intel to lead the way out of the deep market depths.