On Thursday afternoon, troubled chip maker Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ:AMD) reported a non-GAAP loss of $0.13 per share on revenue of $1.09 billion. The revenue and earnings results were both slightly better than Wall Street expected, and AMD also guided Q2 revenue somewhat above expectations. AMD is attempting to transform its business away from its current reliance on PC sales, which seem to be in permanent decline. CEO Rory Read wants the company to focus on sales of embedded and semi-custom processors, graphics processors, and other growth initiatives, in order to diversify away from the company's bread-and-butter of selling x86 processors in competition with Intel (NASDAQ:INTC).
That said, AMD's Q1 results were still pretty discouraging. Revenue was down more than 30% from the prior-year quarter, and the company swung from non-GAAP EPS of $0.12 in last year's Q1 to this year's loss. AMD expects to continue losing money and bleeding cash in the current quarter, before (hopefully) returning to profitability in the second half of the year. However, its guidance for a return to profitability depends to a large extent on the popularity of new products like Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) expected Xbox 360 successor, as well as better customer acceptance of Windows 8. To put it another way, AMD's revival depends on things almost completely outside of the company's control. This does not sound like a good investment case to me.
Stabilizing the business
I will give Rory Read credit for taking decisive action to stabilize AMD's financial position and reduce its operating expenses. Considering the 31% slide in revenue last quarter, strong gross margin and reduced expenses kept the net loss relatively small. Furthermore, AMD was able to close a sale-leaseback transaction for its Austin campus in March, which generated $164 million of cash and kept the company's cash balance steady.
AMD is also entering a significant product launch cycle, and management believes it can retake share from Intel, particularly for entry-level PCs. The management team is also bullish about its ability to regain share in GPUs from NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA) following new product launches later this year. However, the big long-term goal seems to be gaining embedded and semi-custom design wins, and AMD has made progress here by winning the slots for Nintendo's new Wii U, the PlayStation 4, and (reportedly) the new Xbox.
However, AMD's pursuit of game console design wins may prove futile. Early sales results for the Wii U have been poor, and there is no guarantee that the new PlayStation or Xbox entries will fare better. NVIDIA is making big bets on cloud gaming and mobile gaming with its GRID gaming platform and Project Shield handheld gaming device, both announced at CES earlier this year. Cloud gaming in particular could render the home game console obsolete, by centralizing the computing power on servers, while delivering the output to TVs, tablets, or even smartphones. Plenty of game console enthusiasts will upgrade, but there is a good chance that console sales peaked in the last generation.
Moreover, AMD still faces its traditional problem in the x86 market: Intel has far more resources at its disposal to build better products more profitably. Intel spent more than $2.5 billion on research and development last quarter, whereas AMD cut back to just $312 million. Even NVIDIA seems to be on pace to overtake AMD in R&D spending this year. I am skeptical that AMD can be so efficient with its R&D spending that it will be able to keep up with its deep-pocketed rivals. In the technology world, falling behind can quickly become fatal.
From a high-level perspective, AMD's "better-than-expected" results were still pretty bad. AMD needs a lot of good things to happen to become sustainably profitable. Windows 8 needs to become successful, game console sales need to rebound, and the company needs to keep up with Intel and NVIDIA despite a slim R&D budget. It's not impossible, but I'm still not willing to bet any money on an AMD turnaround.