After the bell tolls on Thursday, radio frequency semiconductor and systems supplier RF Micro (Nasdaq: RFMD) will publish its fiscal 2008 third-quarter earnings. Since an earnings preview was issued by the company earlier this month, the cat's already halfway out of the bag; let's see where this feline may land.

What analysts say:

  • Buy, sell, or waffle? A full 21 analysts follow RF Micro. Of these, 13 say buy and eight say hold. RF Micro also holds a three-star stock rating (out of five possible stars), with 291 players in the Motley Fool CAPS community giving an opinion.
  • Revenues. On average, analysts predict quarterly sales to be little more than $268 million -- around the $268 million the company guided to just three weeks ago.
  • Earnings. Profits are expected to drop 56% to $0.07 per share.

What management says:
RF Micro already gave investors an earful with its reduced sales outlook for the coming quarter. Citing reduced demand from Asian customers late in the quarter, the company dropped revenue expectations to the low end of the $265 million to $280 million range given last quarter. The company also blamed its "high concentration of top-tier customers that utilize inventory hubs" for the shortfall that also hit earnings.

But other players have not echoed RF Micro's problems. Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) commented that global inventory levels of its CDMA-based handsets were at a comfortable level of less than 20 weeks. Texas Instruments (NYSE: TXN) and Nokia (NYSE: NOK) have both turned in impressive results for the final quarter of 2007 as well, leaving Motorola (NYSE: MOT) as the only device or chip maker putting investors in a sour mood.

What management does:
One-time tax benefits from last year have skewed the margins picture for RF Micro somewhat, leaving the impression that net margins are steadily rising, when they have in fact declined throughout 2007.

Margins

6/06

9/06

12/06

3/07

6/07

9/07

Gross

34.7%

34.5%

34.5%

34.9%

34.5%

33.8%

Operating

4.2%

4.8%

5.8%

7.9%

6.5%

6.1%

Net

3.9%

0.8%

5.2%

8.1%

9.3%

12.7%

All data courtesy of Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Data reflects trailing-12-month performance for the quarters ended in the named months.

One Fool says:
RF Micro's recent issues aren't confirmed across the entire industry, so it's likely that the chip maker's customer mix and timing just didn't play in its favor this time around. Even though RF Micro has a broad customer base that includes Samsung, Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERIC), Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM), and LG, its revenues are significantly influenced by the machinations of a few large customers. Domestic and international wireless markets continue to thrive, so the shortfall this quarter should turn out to be a short-term problem. No doubt analysts will be hammering management on the upcoming conference call for more details. And we'll be here to bring you the scoop.

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Fool contributor Dave Mock made sure he ordered his DVD rewinder in time for the holidays. He owns shares of Motorola and Qualcomm and is the author of The Qualcomm Equation. The Fool's disclosure policy sends flowers even on not-so-special occasions.