Logo of jester cap with thought bubble.

Image source: The Motley Fool.

Microchip Technology (NASDAQ:MCHP)
Q3 2020 Earnings Call
Feb 04, 2020, 5:00 p.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:


Operator

Good day, everyone, and welcome to this Microchip's third-quarter fiscal 2020 financial results conference call. As a reminder, today's call is being recorded. At this time, I would like to turn the call over to Mr. Eric Bjornholt, chief financial officer.

Sir, please begin.

Eric Bjornholt -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, and good afternoon, everyone. During the course of this conference call, we will be making projections and other forward-looking statements regarding future events or the future financial performance of the company. We wish to caution you that such statements are predictions, and that actual events or results may differ materially. We refer you to our press releases of today as well as our recent filings with the SEC that identify important risk factors that may impact Microchip's business and results of operations.

In attendance with me today are Steve Sanghi, Microchip's chairman and CEO; and Ganesh Moorthy, Microchip's president and COO. I will comment on our third-quarter fiscal year 2020 financial performance, and Steve and Ganesh will then give their comments on the results and discuss the current business environment as well as our guidance. We will then be available to respond to specific investor and analyst questions. We are including information in our press release in this conference call on various GAAP and non-GAAP measures.

We have posted a full GAAP to non-GAAP reconciliation on the investor relations page of our website at www.microchip.com, which we believe you will find useful when comparing our GAAP and non-GAAP results. We have also posted a summary of our outstanding debt and our leverage metrics on our website. I want to remind investors that during the June quarter of 2018, we adopted the new GAAP revenue recognition standard, which requires revenue to be recognized at the time products are sold to distributors versus our historical revenue recognition policy, where revenue on such transactions were deferred until the product was sold by our distributors to an end customer. As discussed in previous earnings conference call, we continue to track and measure our performance internally based on direct revenue plus distribution sell-through activity.

And each quarter, we'll provide a metric for this called end-market demand in our earnings release. Therefore, along with our GAAP and non-GAAP results, based on distribution sell in, we will also provide investors with our end-market demand based on distribution sell out, but will not provide a P&L based on end-market demand. End-market demand in the December 2019 quarter was $1.324 billion, end-market demand was about $36.1 million more than our GAAP revenue in the December 2019 quarter. I will now go through some of the operating results, including net sales, gross margin and operating expenses.

I will be referring to these results on a non-GAAP basis, which is based on expenses prior to the effects of our acquisition activities, share-based compensation and certain other adjustments as described in our press release. Net sales in the December quarter were $1.287 billion, which was down 3.76% sequentially and near the high end of our updated revenue guidance provided on January 6, 2020. We have posted a summary of our GAAP net sales and end-market demand by product line and geography on our website for your reference. On a non-GAAP basis, gross margins were 61.5%, operating expenses were 26.4%, and operating income was 35.1% and above the high end of our guidance.

Non-GAAP net income was $340.8 million. Non-GAAP earnings per diluted share was $1.32, which was above the high end of our last provided non-GAAP EPS guidance from December 3, 2019 of $1.30. On a GAAP basis, gross margins were 61% and include the impact of $5.7 million of share-based compensation expense. Total operating expenses were $654.3 million and include acquisition intangible amortization of $248.7 million, special charges of $17.8 million, $10.9 million of acquisition related and other costs and share-based compensation of $37.8 million.

The GAAP net income was $311.1 million or $1.20 per diluted share. Our December quarter of GAAP tax benefit was significantly positively impacted by the tax benefit related to the intra-group transfer of certain intellectual property rights. The non-GAAP cash tax rate was 6% in the December quarter. We expect our non-GAAP cash tax rate for fiscal '20 to be about 6%, exclusive of any transition tax, any potential tax associated with the restructuring of the Microsemi operations and the Microchip's global structure and any tax audit settlements related to taxes accrued in prior fiscal years.

We have many tax attributes and net operating losses and tax credits as well as U.S. interest deductions that we believe will keep our cash tax payments low. The future cash tax payments associated with the transition tax is expected to be about $245 million and will be paid over the next six years. We have posted a schedule of our projected transition tax payments on the investor relations page of our website.

Our inventory balance at December 31, 2019, was $708.8 million. We had 129 days of inventory at the end of the December quarter, down two days from the prior quarter's level. Inventory at our distributors in the December quarter were at 28 days compared to 30 days at the end of September. We've only had one quarter in the past 15 years, which was Q3 of fiscal year 2013, where our days of inventory at distribution have been at lower than the current levels.

The cash flow from operating activities was $395.5 million in the December quarter. As of December 31, the consolidated cash and total investment position was $402.3 million. We paid down $257 million of total debt in the December quarter, and the net debt on the balance sheet was reduced by $254.2 million. Over the last six full quarters since we closed the Microsemi acquisition and incurred over $8 billion in debt to do so, we have paid down $1.986 billion of the debt and continue to allocate substantially all of our excess cash generation beyond dividends to aggressively bring down this debt.

We have accomplished this despite the adverse macro and market conditions during most of this period, which we feel is a testimony to the cash generation capabilities of our business. We expect our debt levels to reduce significantly over the next several years. Our adjusted EBITDA in the December quarter was $503.4 million, and our trailing 12-month adjusted EBITDA was $2.125 billion. Our net debt to adjusted EBITDA, excluding our very long-dated convertible debt that matures in 2037 and is more equity like in nature, was 4.58 at December 31, 2019.

Our dividend payment in the December quarter was $87.7 million. Capital expenditures were $14.1 million in the December 2019 quarter. We expect between $20 million and $25 million in capital spending in the March quarter, and overall capital expenditures for fiscal 2020 to be between $76 million and $81 million. We continue to add capital to support the growth of our production capabilities for our new products and technologies and to bring in house more of the assembly and test operations that are currently outsourced.

We expect these capital investments will bring some gross margin improvement to our business, particularly for the outsourced Atmel and Microsemi manufacturing activities that we are bringing into our own factories. Depreciation expense in the December quarter was $41.4 million. I will now turn it over to Ganesh to give us comments on the performance of the business in the December quarter. Ganesh?

Ganesh Moorthy -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Thank you, Eric, and good afternoon, everyone. Before I get started, I'd like to remind you that the product line comparisons I will be sharing with you today are based on end-market demand, which is how Microchip measures its performance internally. Let's start by taking a closer look at microcontrollers. Our microcontroller business was sequentially down 1.1% as compared to the September quarter.

We continue to introduce a steady stream of innovative new microcontrollers, including next-generation Bluetooth 5.0 dual-mode audio solutions, production-ready open source tools for managing our Adaptec Smart Storage offerings and industry support for development of the Open Compute Project's Accelerator Infrastructure through our PCIe switches. Microcontrollers represented 53.6% of our end-market demand in the December quarter. Moving to analog. Our analog business was sequentially down 3.6% as compared to the September quarter.

During the quarter, we continued to introduce a steady stream of innovative analog products, including the IEEE 802.3bt-compliant power over Ethernet injectors and midspans that enable up to 90 watts of power without changing switches or cable. Analog represented 28.1% of our end-market demand in the December quarter. Our FPGA business was sequentially flat as compared to the September quarter. During the quarter, we introduced a radiation-tolerant Polarfire FPGA for space and other high-reliability applications as well as the early access program for the Polarfire system-on-chip FPGA, offering the world's first hardened real-time Linux-capable, risk-five based microprocessor subsystem.

Design wins for the Polarfire family continued to grow strongly, and we remain optimistic about the prospects for this product family. FPGA represented 6.9% for end-market demand in the December quarter. Our licensing, memory and other product line, which we refer to as LMO, was sequentially down 0.7% as compared to the September quarter. During the quarter, we enable -- we delivered a new family of electrically erasable RAM products, providing cost-effective alternatives to nonvolatile RAM solutions and a number of memory densities.

LMO represented 11.3% of our end-market demand in the December quarter. An update regarding coronavirus and what we're seeing. First, all our employees are safe, and that remains our highest priority. We implemented travel bans in and out of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan two weeks ago.

We also implemented self-quarantine requirements for anyone who may have traveled to these countries, mandatory medical assessment and clearance for anyone who may have symptoms, a screening questionnaire for all external visitors to any Microchip facility and common-sense preventive sanitizing steps on a continuous basis in all our facilities worldwide. As you well know, most provinces in China have extended the Chinese New Year holidays to February 9, Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, has extended the holidays to February 13. Our manufacturing footprint in China is small, and we expect little impact to our operations from this extension. Also at this time, we do not anticipate any significant supply chain issues for materials sourced from China.

Some of our customers could be affected by the extended Chinese New Year holidays. It is too early to determine what impact there may be as most are not yet back from the extended holidays. Because Chinese New Year this year was early in the quarter, there is more time for our customers to catch up lost production within the quarter. We also believe there is slack in manufacturing capacity, which can be of help while recovering lost production.

These outbreaks are unpredictable, and there may yet be other twists and turns to come in the days ahead. We continue to process the news daily as well as monitor information from the center for disease control and the World Health Organization. We will adapt our response as needed and focus on the things that we can control. Finally, over the last few months, we started to share six megatrends that we believe provide significant growth opportunities for Microchip over the next five to 10 years, and I'd like to summarize them.

First, the 5G infrastructure rollout, which is just getting started and has a decade ahead of it. Each prior generation of wireless infrastructure deployment, 2G, 3G and 4G, lasted for about 10 years. The Internet of Things comprised of smart, connected and secured end nodes is picking up steam, especially for industrial IOT, when there are compelling business models for customers to make money, save money and mitigate risk. Third, for data centers.

The data center demand, the store and process data is exploding as data is created at a hyper-exponential rate. To put this in perspective, estimates are that 90% of the world's data was created in just the last two years, and that trend continues unabated. Fourth, electric and hybrid vehicles are writing a wave of consumer and regulatory forces, which are driving substantial investment in technology and capacity. Fifth is the Advanced Driver Assist, which is already a growth application and its proliferation to more car models and its natural progression to increasing levels of autonomous driving.

Sixth is finally the artificial intelligence and machine learning, which we see as another explosive growth area, not only in the cloud, but even more so at the edge. These megatrends cut across the diverse end markets we serve and guide our product development priorities. We believe these megatrends, in conjunction with our total system solutions go-to-market approach, will provide key opportunities for organic growth in the coming years. With that, let me pass it to Steve for some comments about our business and our guidance going forward.

Steve?

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Ganesh, and good afternoon, everyone. Today, I would like to first reflect on the results of the fiscal third quarter of 2020, I will then provide guidance for the fiscal fourth quarter of 2020. Our December quarter was an interesting one in which we revised the midpoint of our guidance upwards twice. Once on December 3, 2019, prior to the Credit Suisse conference and second on January 6, 2020, prior to JPMorgan conference.

Our final December quarter GAAP net sales were on the high end of our latest guidance and came in at $1.287 billion, down 3.76% sequentially. Our end-market demand based on sell through was $36 million higher than GAAP sales, which we believe shows that the channel was continuing to manage their working capital conservatively by reducing inventory due to uncertainty. December was the seventh consecutive quarter where our sell-through revenue was higher than our sell-in revenue. Our consolidated non-GAAP gross margin of 61.5% was just above the high end of our guidance.

Our consolidated non-GAAP operating margin of 35.1% was also just above the high end of our guidance. Our consolidated non-GAAP earnings per share was $1.32, which was also above the high end of our revised guidance. So overall, December quarter turned out to be a lot better than originally guided. On non-GAAP basis, this was also our 117th consecutive profitable quarter.

In the December quarter, we paid down $257 million of our debt. Our total debt payment since the end of June 2018 has been about $2 billion. The pace of debt payments has been strong despite the weakened uncertain business conditions, underlining the strong cash-generation characteristics of our business as well as our active efforts to continue to squeeze working capital efficiencies. Now before I provide you guidance for the March quarter, let me comment on some of the inflection points that we saw during the December quarter.

Our December quarter bookings were up double-digit percentage over the September quarter bookings that resulted in our starting backlog for March quarter to be up double-digit percentage over the starting backlog for the December quarter. Our starting backlog was up in each of the geographies of North America, Europe and Asia. From an end-market perspective, we saw strength in data centers and start of a recovery in industrial and automotive. Continuing on the inflection points, the book-to-bill ratio for December quarter was well above one after multiple quarters of book-to-bill being below one.

Our distributor inventory at the end of September was already at a low level and lowest in 15 years, except one quarter in fiscal year '13. In December quarter, the distribution inventory went even lower. During December quarter, we saw increased level of customer-requested pull ins, many of its required factory expedite. Seeing these multiple signs of inflection point, we call the December quarter to be a bottom for Microchip for this cycle, barring any negative developments on the U.S.-China trade front or the impact of coronavirus.

Now I turn to guidance for March quarter. The backlog from March quarter that started out quite strong continue to fill in during the month of January. Taking all these factors into consideration and after rolling up revenue expectations from sales regions as well as business units, we expect GAAP net sales, based on sell-in revenue recognition for our products, to be up between 2% to 9% sequentially in the March 2020 quarter. The midpoint of our guidance for the March 2020 quarter reflects what we believe our business can deliver, assuming no extraordinary events.

However, the wider-than-normal guidance range is to help account for the uncertainty associated with the evolving coronavirus situation. We are still in the early days of how this situation is playing out. We have no way to model how the rest of the quarter will play out for the coronavirus situation, and what the consequent business impact may be. But we believe that our guidance range incorporates our best judgment for the possible scenarios.

Regarding capex, we expect to finish fiscal year 2020 with a capex of between $76 million and $81 million, a significant reduction from fiscal year '19 capex of $229 million. This is consistent with what we have said before that our capex is divided between growth capital, maintenance capital and new products and technology capital in a fiscal year, like 2020, in which our net sales declined, the growth capital, which is the largest portion of the capex, declines to virtually nothing. And therefore, the total capex declined significantly. For December quarter, it should be for March quarter.

For March quarter, we expect our non-GAAP gross margin to be between 61.5% and 61.9% of sales. We expect non-GAAP operating expenses to be between 25% and 26.2% of sales. We expect non-GAAP operating profit percentage to be between 35.3% and 36.9% of sales, and we expect our non-GAAP earnings per share to be between $1.35 per share to $1.51 per share. Given all the complications of accounting for our acquisitions, including amortization of intangibles, restructuring charges and inventory write up on acquisitions, Microchip will continue to provide guidance and track its reserves on a non-GAAP basis, except for net sales, which will be on a GAAP basis.

We believe that non-GAAP results provide more meaningful comparison to prior quarters, and we request that the analysts continue to report their non-GAAP estimates to first call. With this, operator, will you please poll for questions?

Questions & Answers:


Operator

[Operator Instructions] And our first question will come from Craig Hettenbach with Morgan Stanley.

Craig Hettenbach -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Thank you. Steve, just a question on the expedite activity. Can you just maybe put that into context with currently kind of where your lead times are and things you're looking to do to maybe kind of address that as business improves?

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

So during this down cycle, we built a substantial amount of inventory that is held in the die bank. So when an order comes in, it's really taking the die from the die bank and processing it through, which can be anywhere to as low as three weeks to as much as six, seven weeks, depending on where it has to go inside or outside or what difficult package or assembly test it might be. What we are finding is that customers stationed a fair amount of backlog just outside the quarter. And then when they need the product, they expedite into the quarter.

This way, they kind of have both choices. They could not take it in the quarter and leave it out or push it out further. Or if they need it, ask us to pull it in. We've been seeing this strange phenomenon now, not only this quarter, we've been seeing it for some time, but it really became even more accentuated.

So there's a fair amount of backlog sitting outside the quarter in April, and customers are expediting it into the quarter. Does that answer your question?

Craig Hettenbach -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Yes. Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Vivek Arya with Bank of America.

Vivek Arya -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Thank you for taking my question. Steve, I'm curious, what are you expecting your distributors to do in the March quarter? I think you're giving a net sales outlook. So any color on sell-in and sell-out trends would be helpful. And in general, what are they saying to you? Why are they taking down Microchip inventory to such low levels because it's such an outlier, and we don't hear of any of your other peers, their inventory is being taken down to similarly low levels.

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Well, I don't really know if as we speak, distributors are taking down inventory further, but they have in the last seven quarters or so through December. We don't really have a guidance for the March quarter on sell through. We can't really provide both ends of the guidance. It's just too much work.

So we're providing the sell-in guidance that we have given you. And in the December quarter, when we provided the guidance, we expected that distributors will reverse the trend and will start to build some inventory toward normalization. It did not happen in December. We're expecting it would happen again in March, but there's no guarantee.

Distributors will do what they will do. I think part of the reason is, for 30 years, a culture at Microchip, in our business unit, sales organization up and down to the change with the distribution. Our conversations with the distributors are winning designs, creating a large funnel and pulling those designs to production and creating sales well. That's how we pay our salespeople, that's how we pay our business units, that's how all the bonuses are structured.

And we don't really have a whole lot of conversations regarding what we give into the distribution. That has always been less important to us because we manage our business based on sell-through. So distributors take the inventory what they want to run their business and based on getting returns for their business. In contrast, I think we see many of our peers and competitors are more focused on sell-in revenue recognition, where they may make deals to put more product into distribution and arresting the fall of the inventory that way.

Ganesh Moorthy -- President and Chief Operating Officer

I would add one more thing. We've always had low lead times on our products. And I think that gives distributors an opportunity to run the inventory to whatever the lowest level they think they can get away with, while continuing to focus on sell through. So short lead times give them the opportunity to carry less inventory as well.

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

I would also add that sometime we charge expedite charges for expediting the product. So sometime expedite charges require us to spend weekends, pay overtime or pay expedites for shipping, going through hand-carry products and all sorts of charging can incur. And we often pass those to the customers. It doesn't move the needle in terms of revenue.

But if somebody wants to expedite the parts, it's not always free.

Vivek Arya -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

But you're not assuming any restocking benefit, any major restocking benefit in March.

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

We have no way to model it.

Vivek Arya -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

OK. Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Gary Mobley with Wells Fargo.

Gary Mobley -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

Hey guys. Thanks for taking my question. I want to ask about your relative performance in the microcontroller segment. It looks like for the full calendar year 2019, you outperformed the microcontroller market in terms of sales growth.

If you believe in the SIA sales metrics. But in the second half of the year, it looks like -- in particular, in the fourth calendar quarter, it looks like you might have underperformed the market. To what should we attribute that to? This is just sort of a short-term disruption or anything to look into their long term?

Ganesh Moorthy -- President and Chief Operating Officer

I'm not sure what data is that you are referring to. So we were sequentially down 1.1% on microcontrollers, September to December. If you look at the year-over-year numbers, on microcontrollers, we're down about 5%, 5.5%, somewhere in that neighborhood. The story is not written.

We don't see any annualized numbers that are out yet, maybe SIA has some early numbers. We'll get that by March, April, and we'll, at the next conference call, have the typical Gartner 2019 numbers. There's nothing in our business that has any indication that something was better in the first half and got worse in the second half.

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

I think if you look at the third-quarter results sequentially and compared it to a very large competitor, I think we substantially outgrew them. So...

Ganesh Moorthy -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Either on quarter or by year over year.

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes.

Ganesh Moorthy -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Chris Caso with Raymond James.

Chris Caso -- Raymond James -- Analyst

Yes. Thank you. Good evening. A question with regard to gross margins, and assuming we are -- have started recovery, we'd hope to see some gross margin improvement as a result.

Perhaps you could answer it in terms of production utilization levels with some of the better order rates, has that caused you to change any production levels? And then from a cost standpoint, as we go forward, I think you still have some integration benefits still to come. Could you help to quantify those, and when they kick in and how it helps leverage, if indeed we're in a recovery?

Eric Bjornholt -- Chief Financial Officer

Sure. This is Eric. So in the December quarter, we incurred about a $16 million factory underutilization charge that was reflected in our cost of sales. That was up about $7 million quarter on quarter.

We expect that charge to be lower in the March quarter, particularly in our back-end assembly and test operation, we're running the factories higher. Steve talked about in an earlier response that our die bank is pretty healthy. But back-end operations, we've been training, finished goods and looking to run the factories harder this quarter, which should help on the gross margin and the guidance that we're giving. So that's a piece of it.

We continue to run our factories as efficiently as we can. We're continuing to invest to bring some of the outsourced assembly and test in house at a moderate rate, and all those things are going to benefit gross margin long term and lead us to our long-term guidance, which is to get to about 63% non-GAAP gross margins as a long-term model versus the 61.7% we're guiding to at the midpoint of guidance for the current quarter.

Chris Caso -- Raymond James -- Analyst

All right. Thank you.

Operator

Our next question will come from William Stein with SunTrust Robinson Humphrey.

William Stein -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey -- Analyst

Similar topic, only not just gross on operating as well. Maybe, Eric, you can take a step back and frame up relative to where you are now? And contemplating your longer-term goals, what's the path to getting there? Is it just a modest amount of revenue recovery is mix part of the equation, is there still restructuring for Microsemi? I know you're still bringing capacity in house. It seems to us that it seems fairly likely that you'll be able to exceed these long-term targets, given the revenue level that you're achieving today relative to what the next peak could be, for example.

Eric Bjornholt -- Chief Financial Officer

OK. Thank you. So I think I've kind of touched on gross margin so far, and we've been told by others that they think that's a conservative forecast, but we're not going to update that model until we get to the target. And on opex, we're guiding the current quarter to be between 25% and 26.2% of sales, and our long-term model is 22.5%.

I would say we have been pretty conservative in how we've been managing the business during this current cycle. And with that, we need to make sure that we're making the appropriate investment, whether it's in R&D, support functions, technical sales, outreach to the customers to make sure we drive the long-term health of the business and some of our variable compensation programs too will kick back in as revenue grows. So we have confidence in the long-term model, which is just above 40% operating margins, and we've got ways to go when we're guiding the current quarter at the midpoint of guidance to about 36.1%. So I'd say be patient, we do need revenue growth to get there.

But I think we're well positioned with the investments that we've made to drive to higher levels than what we're seeing today.

Operator

[Operator instructions] Our next question comes from Ambrish Srivastava with BMO Financial Group.

Ambrish Srivastava -- BMO Financial Group -- Analyst

Hi. Thanks very much Steve. I was wondering if you could give us a little bit more detail on the source of strength in bookings, whether end markets or geos. I believe last earnings call, you had indicated that China was stronger in terms of geos.

So any updates on that front would be helpful. Thank you.

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

So I think from an end-market perspective, we said that data center has been strong all along, and we are seeing a start of a recovery in the industrial market and the automotive market. The communication market remains weak, and the appliance market remains weak. And aerospace and defense is going to always lumpy and it's hard to call. From a geographical perspective, yes, we saw strength in the China market last quarter, but you would see the weakness in China market this quarter driven by the Lunar New Year.

And nobody knows what is going to happen with the coronavirus. So this quarter, you would see stronger U.S. and Europe and weaker China.

Ambrish Srivastava -- BMO Financial Group -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Raji Gill with Needham & Company.

Raji Gill -- Needham and Company -- Analyst

Yes. Thank you. If we think about the seasonality in the business now that we have some time. How do we think about it coming out of the bottom of the cycle and kind of perhaps entering into mid-cycle recovery, excluding the impact of the coronavirus? I'm just trying to get a sense of the seasonality, acquisitions post the bottom of the cycle.

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

I think Raji, seasonality is still hard to measure where all of the acquisitions that we have completed. The events that have happened in the last couple of years, the -- all the trade tension situation, general economic conditions, now the coronavirus. Prior to that, we had a significant inventory correction event on, especially the Microsemi inventory. We really haven't finished enough quarters in a healthy business environment to peg a seasonality.

So, I would think it still remains difficult.

Raji Gill -- Needham and Company -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question will come from Craig Ellis with B. Riley FBR.

Craig Ellis -- B. Riley FBR -- Analyst

Yes. Thanks for taking the question. Congratulations on the good execution. I wanted to go back to some of the comments around the performance on debt reduction, which, over the last six quarters at almost $2 billion, is very strong.

The question is, perhaps, both to you, Eric, and you, Steve. As you look ahead and given the trajectory you're on, it seems like you could be at a three times net debt-to-EBITDA level and as soon as four quarters or so. So how do you think about deploying the cash to create value for shareholders when you get to that level, would a vast majority of available cash will go to debt pay down? Or would you start looking at other things, and what would the priorities be at that point? Thank you.

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Let me take that, and Eric can add to it. First of all, I don't think I have looked at a model, which will take the leverage down to three times in four quarters. That seems awfully aggressive. Although I don't know what assumption you are making in the revenue growth of the recovery, it will largely depend on that.

But basically, yes, we need to bring the debt leverage below three handle, kind of have it somewhere in the high twos. Once we get there, then we'll still be generating somewhere of the order of well over $1 billion of free cash per quarter, and we need to figure out what we do. I mean we haven't been in that situation in quite a long time. You have obvious choices.

You could pay down more debt and bring leverage down further. But more preferably, you could increase the dividend. You can start a buyback program. And that all, assuming that there is not a further M&A possibility.

We have said before that we think by the time we come up for air, majority of the company is the smaller companies that we would like to buy, probably would have been bought. And there isn't as much more opportunity there, but there could be one more possibly. But secondly, we think that the remaining assets are very expensive. There is a large amount of M&A bid on them already because every small companies really on sale.

And we don't really pay that kind of multiple that we have seen paid in the recent deals, Cyprus as well as some of the deals. Those multiples were way, way too high for our tests. So if we cannot find a reasonable other acquisition, then our focus will switch to other uses of cash, including higher dividend, more stock buyback and possibly some more debt pay down.

Eric Bjornholt -- Chief Financial Officer

I think what I am going to add to that is just kind of a short-term view here is because I know we will get this question a lot is what do we expect for that pay down in the current quarter, the March quarter. And really, we expect that to be somewhere between $225 million and $250 million. Last quarter, it was $257 million. But our starting accounts receivable balance is lower just because revenue was down last quarter.

So really to get some tailwinds behind us. From a revenue perspective, as the top line grows, I think EBITDA will start growing nicely. And that is going to help with the leverage metrics coming down, but it kind of depends on what the environment is going to be over the course of the next year if we were able to get to that three times number that you mentioned. I think we need some pretty good revenue growth.

Craig Ellis -- B. Riley FBR -- Analyst

Thanks guys.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] And our next question comes from Chris Danely with Citi.

Chris Danely -- Citi -- Analyst

Thanks. Steve, you mentioned that some customers were expediting orders out of the June quarter into this quarter. So do you think that the June quarter could be at risk of a little bit of a disappointment, like we're routing from the June quarter to pay the March quarter? And then further to that, you talked a little bit about lead times. Do you think that there is risk of extended lead times if this expediting continues?

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

The lead times are not at-risk short term because we have a fair amount of die inventory, and there's a fair amount of capacity slack in the system since the revenues are down year over year. The backlog bottomed out some time ago, and the total extended backlog is really growing nicely. So when people are taking backlog from June quarter moving into March quarter, that's not putting June quarter at risk. There is a higher and higher backlog.

The overall backlog is growing. Book-to-bill was strongly positive. So it put a very large amount of total backlog in the system.

Ganesh Moorthy -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Chris, we had expedited in the December quarter, where people have placed backlog in the March quarter and pulled it in. You're seeing a stronger March quarter despite that. So as you go into an up an upward trend in the business, it is not unnatural. We've seen it in other cycles where customers start to see their business recovering and wanting to have products sooner than they had originally planned for.

Eric Bjornholt -- Chief Financial Officer

Yes. And in addition to those orders that are being pulled in by customers requesting them into the current quarter, we're also receiving orders that are just within our normal published lead times, and that can create some expedite activity also.

Ganesh Moorthy -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Often with short lead times.

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. And Chris, this phenomenon is not a new one. We've seen it before in prior cycles, and we've been seeing it in this cycle. It's -- I kind of call it, have your cake and eat it too.

So customers will place an order, where they are still in the cancellation or push-out window. And if they don't want it, if the business is not strong, they can push it out or leave it out. But if their business is stronger than they needed, then they ask us to expedite it, kind of have their cake and eat it too. It's not a new phenomenon.

But we are seeing it quite accentuated right now, and that's why I called it out.

Chris Danely -- Citi -- Analyst

OK. Thanks a lot guys.

Operator

Our next question comes from Harsh Kumar with Piper Sandler.

Harsh Kumar -- Piper Sandler -- Analyst

Yes. Hey Steve, I was curious with the sudden pickup in China. Are you aware of any areas of shortages, not just in your business, but in the industry overall?

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

I'm not seeing any shortages. I mean, China right now is shutdown. So you really wouldn't get any data, and they were shut down for the Chinese New Year. They're just about coming back, but most provinces have extended until February 9.

But prior to going for the Chinese New Year, no, we were not experiencing any shortages.

Harsh Kumar -- Piper Sandler -- Analyst

Thanks guys.

Operator

Our next question comes from Christopher Rolland with Susquehanna International Group.

Christopher Rolland -- Susquehanna International Group -- Analyst

Thanks for the question. Eric, perhaps asked another way. If you could talk about Atmel and Microsemi, bringing them in house. Remind us kind of where we are front end and back end? And then also the gross margin benefits that you would get there? Also, how you're able to do this in such a small capex envelope as well? Thanks.

Eric Bjornholt -- Chief Financial Officer

OK. So there's a couple of pieces to that. So we did tighten our investment criteria in terms of making those capital investments over the course of the last year when business was difficult. And so we shorten the window, the payback window from a cash flow perspective from two years down to a year.

And we really haven't changed that at this point in time. So that's one of the reasons it's been lower. And this is a very detailed work. So it's package by package, part by part.

And none of these investments are needle movers. But in aggregate, they do help gross margins slowly over time. So I think that's responsive to your question, unless these guys have anything else they'd like to add.

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

I think there's then the percentage we haven't said and outside for fab, assembly and tests.

Christopher Rolland -- Susquehanna International Group -- Analyst

Yes. So fab is 39% internal, assembly is 45% and test is 54%.

Harsh Kumar -- Piper Sandler -- Analyst

That's useful.

Eric Bjornholt -- Chief Financial Officer

And we would expect those assembly and test percentages to increase over time as we gradually make these investments.

Operator

Our next question will come from Harlan Sur with JP Morgan.

Harlan Sur -- J.P. Morgan -- Analyst

Good afternoon guys. Thanks for taking my question. Congrats on the strong start to 2020. I know lead times are still pretty short.

But given the strong bookings trends coming off of the depressed September quarter, strong bookings thus far here in the March quarter and maybe some backlog build for June, existing out the potential issues for coronavirus. But do you think you're setting up given the backlog that you're seeing, at least for a seasonal June quarter, which is typically one of your seasonally strongest quarters.

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

We are not giving guidance or commenting on the June quarter, especially in the light of significant uncertainty because of the coronavirus. Remove those uncertainties and let's say there's no impact and business comes back and the virus is contained rapidly and all that, then your assessment for the June quarter would be correct.

Eric Bjornholt -- Chief Financial Officer

Yes. And I think I would just add that we are very well positioned from a capacity perspective to be able to respond quickly to upside if that develops.

Harlan Sur -- J.P. Morgan -- Analyst

Got it. And then, I guess, on that note, back in early January when you did your update, it didn't sound like you were going to be increasing front-end utilizations near term just because you guys have pretty substantial die bank. But let's say, as the much quarter progresses and the backlog is indicating the potential for normal seasonal growth for June and September, I assume the team would start to ramp capacity utilization, say, in the back half of this quarter. Is that kind of the right way to think about the potential timing of utilizations going up?

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

So this is Steve. Let me take that. I think let's start from the back end first then we'll come to the front end. The back-end utilization is going up as we speak.

And as we ramp, it will continue to go up because we depleted the finished goods. And when the orders are strong, we've got to take the die bank and finish them. So that will continue to have a positive effect on gross margin, pretty much starting now. When you look at the front end, the front end still has a fair amount of die bank, but there also you got to separate it on the production we do inside versus the production we buy from outside.

The inventory and the products we buy from outside was depleted to a lower level. And there, we are increasing the buy as we speak. But there's not a utilization impact of that because that was being done outside. What we were doing inside, that's where we have the substantial die bank.

And I think it will at least take it a few more quarters before we have to start increasing the production in our fabs.

Harlan Sur -- J.P. Morgan -- Analyst

Got it. OK. But then the lower end, the underutilization charges here in the March quarter is simply because you are filling out your packaging and test assembly utilizations are going up, right? Is that the primary driver for the lower underutilization charges?

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. There's always lots of moving parts, mix and all that. But yes, there is a new phenomenon where even in the December quarter, we were depleting finished goods. We were a quarter back-end utilization was lower than the September quarter.

And the March quarter will be up significantly from the December quarter. I wanted to add one more comment on the question you asked regarding the June quarter seasonality, how it would be? And the comment was made that June quarter will at least be seasonal. I would say, I hope that one of these quarters, current quarter as well as June quarter and September quarter are well above seasonal because the inventories are so low. And if I take any Qs from any prior recoveries, whether it was from SaaS or the recovery from 2009 cycle or any other cycle recovery, usually, you got two or three quarters of well above seasonal recovery that takes the business back to the old heights and then goes from there.

So I'd like to think that any kind of forecast here becomes very conservative.

Harlan Sur -- J.P. Morgan -- Analyst

Yes. I thought that's a fair point, Steve.

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question will come from the Vijay Rakesh with Mizuho Securities.

Vijay Rakesh -- Mizuho Securities -- Analyst

I was wondering, as you look at your business, I was wondering if you can give us some color by markets, in markets, automotive, industrial, how do you see that playing out to the rest of the year?

Ganesh Moorthy -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Thanks. So as Steve mentioned, we're starting to see automotive and industrial picking up from the bottom that they were at. They had pretty bad years in 2019. And our expectation is that barring any outside events as we go through 2020, both those end markets should see continued improvement.

Vijay Rakesh -- Mizuho Securities -- Analyst

Got it. And on the industrial and other end markets, do you see a similar trend into the back half? Or do you see a stronger first half year or...

Ganesh Moorthy -- President and Chief Operating Officer

So my comment was for both automotive and industrial. We've talked about data center. It was strong. It remains strong.

We don't see anything that suggests it's different. There may be some communication market changes that are driven by what happens with coronavirus. We don't know. But there is a large 5G investment cycle that is starting.

And then as far as defense and aerospace tends to be pretty steady and how it goes. It remained steady with where it's at. And then the consumer cycle, we have yet to see if we'll see some benefits. It needs further trade resolution for it to see any significant benefits, but nothing new to report on that, on the consumer end of the market.

Vijay Rakesh -- Mizuho Securities -- Analyst

Right. Great. Thanks.

Operator

Our last question will come from John Pitzer with Credit Suisse Group.

John Pitzer -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Yes. Thanks for letting me get in. I've been jumping around calls, so I apologize if this is a repeat. But Steve, if you kind of look at the operating model for the business.

Historically, you guys have always made good progress and then kind of taking a step back as you've made acquisitions to then kind of move forward again. I'm just kind of curious, if we go to an extended period where you're not sort of in the acquisition game. How should we be thinking about operating margin targets and incremental gross and op margins for the business over time?

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

So John, no, you are very correct that we make substantial progress in gross and operating margin after an acquisition. And then when we do another acquisition, most times, we're not buying businesses that are over 60% gross margin and 40% operating margins. So our overall company margin, gross and operating, drop. And then we work back up few steps only to take a fall again when we buy the next acquisition.

Now if you make the assumption that for an extended period of time, we were to not do another acquisition, then first thing that would happen is that we will reach our operating model. So our operating model to remind everyone is 63% gross margin and 22.5% operating expenses, leading to a 40.5% operating profit. So two ends of it. First, the gross margin.

We're guiding 61.7% gross margin this quarter. So it's 130 basis points away. If you just take the underutilization charge of $16 million, that pretty much gets you there, almost. The second issue is the operating expense.

So operating expense, basically, we're guiding 25% to 26.2%. And there is a huge leverage there with the revenue increase. The current revenue I think, were a couple of hundred million dollars behind that past record, very round number. So once you gain that, you have a significant leverage with the operating expense comes down.

Some leverage still remains in integration of Microsemi, with all these go-lives and all that, that are happening, which will take another nine months. But once we get all that done, then you have achieved gross margin as well as the operating expense and you have reached the model. Now if your question is, where does the model go? Do we continue to go higher in gross margin and continue to grow higher in operating margin? For that, get in line, and we'll talk about it when we get there.

John Pitzer -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

That's helpful. And then just secondly, on Microsemi. With an acquisition, you kind of made as the industry was going into a correction, and you're talking a little bit about kind of the expense leverage there. I'm just kind of curious from a revenue leverage.

I mean, one of the things you guys have always done well as you bought these assets is going and kind of apply a better pricing discipline to the business. Is there still more to go with the Microsemi acquisition? Or has that mostly played out?

Ganesh Moorthy -- President and Chief Operating Officer

First of all, I don't think we had the same pricing discipline issues in Microsemi as we did at Atmel. Microsemi, just to remind you, was gross margins that were right around 60% when we did the acquisition. The product lines at Microsemi are extremely sticky products, and many of them have very long-life cycles. And to that extent, those margins will stay high.

The product line revenues will stay high. Now in the time we have owned Microsemi started to work on, so how are we going to take advantage of Microsemi's position in the end markets they were strong in, data center communications and aerospace and defense, to be able to sell a more complete portfolio? And that work is well under way and reverse how can we take Microsemi products into the end market that Microchip was strong in prior to the acquisition, automotive, industrial and home appliances. And that work is going in. Now we have a six , seven-quarter window, where the environment has been weak.

And as we emerge from a weak environment and we go into a more normal environment, all the hard work that has been done will begin to play itself out. And so I think there are revenue synergies yet to come. But in part, it's work to be done, and a lot of that is under way and has been for some time. But a lot of it has to come as the environment strengthens.

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

And John, I think if you study some of the past cycles, I know you and other analysts are very good studying the past cycles. What really happens is nobody believes the depth of the downturn. And the estimates always stay high and they get cut multiple times. In this cycle, the estimates fully have been cut four times not only for Microchip, but for the industry and various other players, could be more than four times.

And then when the reverse happens, the estimates always go higher. We can raise, we can raise, we can raise for many quarters. I have seen this in prior cycles because nobody has the confidence to get the revenue or guide the revenue to be higher than seasonal, and it continues for many quarters in the other direction. That's what I'm hoping for, but not guiding to.

Operator

And at this time, there are no further questions in the queue. So I would like to turn the call back over to Mr. Steve Sanghi for any closing remarks.

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Well, we want to thank everyone for attending this call, and we're going to about three different conferences, I think, this quarter. So we'll see some of you at those conferences. Thank you.

Operator

[Operator signoff]

Duration: 58 minutes

Call participants:

Eric Bjornholt -- Chief Financial Officer

Ganesh Moorthy -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Steve Sanghi -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Craig Hettenbach -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Vivek Arya -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Gary Mobley -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

Chris Caso -- Raymond James -- Analyst

William Stein -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey -- Analyst

Ambrish Srivastava -- BMO Financial Group -- Analyst

Raji Gill -- Needham and Company -- Analyst

Craig Ellis -- B. Riley FBR -- Analyst

Chris Danely -- Citi -- Analyst

Harsh Kumar -- Piper Sandler -- Analyst

Christopher Rolland -- Susquehanna International Group -- Analyst

Harlan Sur -- J.P. Morgan -- Analyst

Vijay Rakesh -- Mizuho Securities -- Analyst

John Pitzer -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

More MCHP analysis

All earnings call transcripts