Semiconductor giant Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC) held its annual investor meeting on Nov. 20. Several members of the company's management gave presentations to investors about Intel's past, present, and future. As the technology landscape changes, Intel is changing right along with it.
Among the good news from the event was Intel's better-than-expected revenue guidance and dividend increase. Management expects mid-single-digit revenue growth on a percentage basis in 2015, up from prior forecasts that called for little to no growth. Separately, Intel increased its dividend by 6.7%, to $0.96 per share on an annual basis.
Both of these announcements are good signs for shareholders. But when it comes to the overall state of the business, not all is well. Intel still has some glaring weaknesses. The company isn't successfully penetrating the mobile device market, which remains a concern, as it has the potential to limit Intel's earnings growth, which is probably why management approved a modest dividend increase.
Here are two major points Intel investors need to know from the company's big investor meeting.
Mobile isn't going well
Intel management held the stated goal of getting the company's chips into 40 million tablets this year. The promise was made as an attempt to demonstrate Intel's ability to penetrate the mobile device market. Going that route makes sense, of course, since most growth in computing going forward will probably be in smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. Progress in this regard would be an important step for Intel to prove that it has a viable growth avenue outside of traditional personal computers, which comprise almost two-thirds of the company's revenue. Low growth in PCs has a lot to do with why Intel expects just a few percentage points of revenue growth next year, which is hardly reason to celebrate.
To its credit, Intel is on track to meet its 40 million-tablet goal. But along the way, Intel has spent a lot of money -- $1 billion just last quarter -- to build its mobile business. At the investor meeting, Intel acknowledged how much money it's losing. However, the company doesn't seem bothered by it. The company knows it was very late to the mobile party, and spending so much trying to get back in was an expected hazard.
Fortunately, not all of Intel's strategic initiatives are falling flat. Intel is making progress in other areas, such as data centers, and this should give investors hope. For many quarters now, Intel's data center group steadily built up into one of the company's most important businesses. In fact, revenue in data centers is up 15% over the first three quarters of the year. PC revenue is up just 4% in the same period. Going forward, Intel sees capacity for even greater growth, because of its focus on broadening its customer base and diversifying markets. As a result, management expects 18% compound annual growth in its data center business through 2018.
Share buybacks coming at the expense of dividends
Intel's dividend increase also pleased investors. But it's worth noting that the company could have increased its dividend by much more, if it didn't spend so much shareholder capital on buying back shares. On the whole, Intel returns a lot of cash to investors. But the majority of it is done through share repurchases. Intel paid $3.3 billion in dividends to shareholders in the first nine months of the year. That's a lot of money, but it's far less than the $7.1 billion spent on share buybacks in this period. Intel's buybacks soared from last year. In the first nine months in 2013, Intel spent just $1.8 billion on share buybacks.
It was more than appropriate for Intel to raise its dividend. Intel hadn't bumped up its dividend in two years, even though most other large-cap technology stocks such as Apple, Microsoft, and Cisco Systems raise their dividends every year, and typically at double-digit rates. Intel could have easily raised its dividend in the past two years, and certainly by more than 6.7% now, if it hadn't spent so much on buying back its own shares.
Intel shares rose 4% after its annual investor meeting. Clearly, investors are happy with what management had to say. But it's important to note that Intel is still struggling in mobile, a key business, and that is now having an effect on shareholders in the form of a disappointing dividend increase and low expectations for revenue growth.