On Oct. 13 following market close, chip giant Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) is expected to report its third-quarter results and offer financial guidance for its fourth and final quarter of the year. The company has had a rough 2015, as the PC market has proven weaker than the company had hoped.
Weakness in the overall PC market, coupled with an inventory burn at Intel's customers ahead of the launches of both Microsoft's new Windows 10 operating system as well as Intel's new Skylake chips, led the company to have a relatively weak first half of 2015.
Going into the second half of 2015, Intel is expecting things to get better as PC vendors "refill" their inventories, which the company hopes will lead to a "better-than-seasonal" second half of the year.
Let's take a look at what investors should expect going into this earnings report.
All eyes on fourth-quarter guidance
Intel generally pre-announces whenever its revenues substantially miss and/or beat the midpoint of its earnings guidance. The fact that Intel didn't pre-announce is a pretty good sign that the company more-or-less hit its revenue and profit guidance for the quarter.
The relatively unknown factor, then, is what Intel will guide to for the fourth quarter of the year.
Intel's current full-year guidance of revenue down 1% relative to 2014 levels implies that the fourth quarter needs to come in at around $15 billion, assuming the company hits the midpoint of its third-quarter guidance, which was $14.3 billion plus or minus $500 million.
Interestingly, it seems that consensus among Street analysts for the third quarter is $14.24 billion, $14.84 billion for the fourth quarter, and $55.02 billion for the year (down 1.5% from 2014 levels). This tells me that sentiment around Intel is a little bit more bearish than what
Can Intel beat expectations?
From what I can tell, there are two factors that may be driving the relatively pessimistic analyst estimates.
The first is that there is probably some fear that PC sales will further deteriorate, posing risk to Intel's PC guidance. The second is concern over whether Intel will be able to deliver upon its revenue guidance of at least 15% growth from 2014 in its data center group as enterprise server sales showed signs of weakness last quarter -- though Intel management has said that cloud growth is essentially offsetting this.
Although this pessimism may ultimately prove to be warranted, I think this guidance is quite reasonable. For example, even though Intel is guiding to robust sequential growth in PCs during the second half of the year, it's still guiding to a year-over-year decline in PC sales that seems to be in line with third-party estimates.
In the data center, Intel management seems to be pretty confident that it will be able to grow its sales here in excess of 15% over 2014 levels. Although Intel might ultimately face factors outside its control that lead to lower-than-expected growth here, Intel reaffirmed this guidance on its most recent call.
Given that Intel lowered its full-year guidance during its last earnings report, I believe that if Intel management felt there was significant risk that it would miss on its data center guidance, it would have gone ahead and baked in such a downward revision in its numbers to avoid a miss and/or another downward revision in full-year guidance. Three times in a year would reflect poorly on management's forecasting abilities.
Expect Intel management to be light on the predictions during the call
One more thing worth pointing out is that the third-quarter earnings call is relatively unexciting because Intel now hosts its investor meetings in November.
Although Intel executives will probably show little reservation in answering questions about how the third quarter went and the key drivers of its fourth-quarter guidance, expect them to be a little more reserved in their longer-term views (i.e., for 2016 and beyond).
This means that, although this coming earnings report will probably include information that's helpful to investors, the real "show" for investors won't be until November.