What happened

Shares of processor giant Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) fell 14.5% in October, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. Intel's stock had bounced back somewhat after disappointing news regarding 7nm chip delays announced earlier this year, but the third-quarter report sent shares back down, as disappointing results in its key data center group offset strength in its mature PC chips segment.

A processor in the clutches of a foundry machine.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

In the third quarter, Intel actually outperformed in its PC chip segment, growing 1% in the quarter, as the work-from-home trends sparked many to upgrade their home laptops. However, the data center group fell 7% and overall data-centric chips were down 10%, much worse than expected, as enterprise and governments pulled back on IT spending amid the pandemic. Intel made up some of that, with its cloud sales growing 15%, but those are generally lower-margin deals. The adverse mix caused gross margin to come in at 54.8%, versus 56.8% consensus.

But most telling was perhaps what management didn't reveal, which was how the company planed to catch up on leading-edge processors after manufacturing delays caused it to fall behind other chip designers that use outsourced foundries. With rival foundry giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (NYSE:TSM) already pushing ahead on 3nm chips for next year, time is of the essence for Intel.

Now what

No doubt, Intel is the rare cheap stock within the technology sector, as the price has fallen to a valuation of just 8.9 times earnings. However, just because a stock is cheap doesn't mean it's a great buy. If Intel's 80%-85% market share in PCs and data centers falls a lot, the company could be in trouble.

On the other hand, management expressed openness to utilizing outsourced foundries if Intel's in-house manufacturing continues to falter. That would allow Intel to stop the bleeding, but it would also be a concession on Intel's major manufacturing advantage it had enjoyed for years. It's probably going to be a long slog for Intel investors, even though the stock is quite cheap today. 

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