Chip designer Texas Instruments
You don't see many companies these days with an urge to keep investors and analysts updated the way TI does. At the midpoint of each quarter, management sits down for an official mid-quarter conference call to update its guidance figures and fill in a few other blanks.
It was time for another one of these powwows on Tuesday night. While the press release was a humdrum affair that simply narrowed the guidance range a little bit on both the low and high end of things, the conference call was informative indeed .
Let's get this party started
TI spokesman Ron Slaymaker handled the proceedings as usual, and his prepared remarks ran close to the official news release. That's where the analyst community got a chance to prove its worth by coaxing some juicy information out of Slaymaker in the Q&A session. As skeptical as we are of the analysts here in Fooldom, these guys did a swell job of asking the right questions.
In response to one question, Slaymaker explained that the industry is still cautiously picking up the pace after a weak 2006, as indicated by competitors such as Analog Devices
TI has restarted some of the manufacturing facilities it mothballed last winter in anticipation of increased demand, and the order volume is indeed picking up, but not in overwhelming numbers. The result is a soft sales lift backed by steady supply, and lead times for new orders remain short. That's good news -- I've heard complaints about excessive lead times from some of the company's smaller customers, to the point of forcing them to go elsewhere for urgent chip needs.
High-end analog circuits are leading the charge this time, though most of the product lines are pulling their weight. That should mean slightly better gross margins this time, and it's another sign that the American consumer is returning to high-end mobile gadgets again. I say "American" and not "global," because most of TI's sales stay in the country.
It's what we do
Slaymaker singled out applications processors as a particular area of opportunity for his company. "I think the top four handset OEMs all use TI OMAP processor applications," he said. "So as application processors become more pervasive across their product line ... you just see a growing opportunity for TI." He sees the handset makers moving away from internal chip designs and other hardware tricks to pull away from the pack. Instead, they're taking off-the-shelf application processors and focusing on excellence in the software interface. Is the Apple iPhone slick and sleek from the soft curves to the unscratchable screen and beyond? Well, yes, but it's all done with common components. The real magic is in the software, which is sort of the mobile version of Mac OS X in many ways.
And that's good news for TI and its peers, because it means healthy and predictable sales of these high-end, general-purpose processors. The more that Nokia and Research In Motion
There you have it -- plenty of positive outlook, with steady revenue growth across all product lines and segments, and more sharply defined earnings and sales guidance. But most market makers seem to have missed this call, focusing instead on the lack of raised guidance over the past few days. TI shares took a nearly 3% hit, even as the overall market has gained a bit.
I'd argue that the reaction is downright silly, even if you ignore the chatter on this conference call. OK, so other chip makers and gadget gurus have reported strong results lately, and upped their own targets, while TI simply tightened its ranges on both ends of the spectrum. But management also talks about how it saw this upturn develop over the last couple of quarters, which means that management has already accounted for some of that in its original guidance.
Under those circumstances, I don't think it's a crime at all to simply redefine a narrower target range. So there's a little bit of irrational discount for interested TI buyers today, I suppose.
Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here, but he does own a TI calculator, vintage 1990. It still works, on the original battery. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure keeps you chipper, no matter what.