The year 2014 proved to be a spectacular one for chip-giant Intel (NASDAQ: INTC), as its server group saw tremendous growth, and PC processor sales wound up being quite a bit better than expected. However, in 2015, PC sales proved to be worse than expected due to a combination of factors, leading to a slight decline in overall revenue for the year.
At its most-recent investor meeting, Intel provided financial guidance that -- should the company meet its goals -- suggests that 2016 will be the company's best year yet. Let's take a closer look at the details.
PC declines to moderate substantially in 2016; data-center growth remains strong
Intel's two largest operating segments are its client computing group (sales substantially derived from PC processors), and its data center group. The former is larger, but the latter has also gotten quite large, and is growing at a very nice clip. Next year, Intel expects the PC market to be "slightly down" -- which management says is a little more conservative than third-party projections of a flat PC market -- and that its overall client computing group revenues will be flat to up by a low single-digit percentage.
Turning to the company's data center group, Intel had previously expected to grow revenue in this segment in excess of 15%, but is now forecasting growth in the "low double digits." The shortfall, per the company, is due to a softer-than-expected enterprise-server market, partially offset by better-than-expected cloud-related growth. For 2016, Intel is calling for a revenue-growth percentage in the "mid-teens" in its data center group.
Other business segments growing, as well
Intel has three additional business units to consider: non-volatile memory, Internet of Things, and software and services. None of these businesses is large enough to move the needle for Intel; but in aggregate, they are expected to generate more than $7 billion in revenue during 2015. According to the company, all three of these businesses should see revenue growth during 2016.
Intel's best year yet?
With just about all of Intel's businesses set to grow next year, it's looking as though 2016 will be Intel's best year yet from a revenue perspective.
From an earnings-per-share perspective, it's not as clear whether 2016 will be Intel's best year if we look at things on an "apples to apples" basis. In 2011, Intel actually earned $2.39 per share. Current analyst estimates for Intel's 2016 earnings per share range from $2.06 to $2.61, with $2.37 representing the average -- or consensus -- estimate.
As I wrote previously, I don't expect Intel to be able to buy back much stock in 2016 as it will be busy trying to rebuild its net cash position following its acquisition of Altera (NASDAQ: ALTR), a deal that's actually expected to close in a few days. With Altera's financial results included in Intel's, it shouldn't be too hard for Intel to top the high-water earnings-per-share mark set in 2011.
What about the stock price?
At this point, Intel's solid revenue guidance is a known quantity, and is, at least to a fairly large degree, baked into the share price. Aside from factors unrelated to Intel itself -- i.e. general stock market conditions -- I think that any share-price movement during 2016 will be based on both investor confidence that the company will hit its guidance for 2016, and expectations for 2017.
Intel's guidance looks achievable in 2016, although there is probably some skepticism because Intel failed to hit its guidance for this year. At any rate, should Intel ultimately meet (or exceed) its guidance for the year, and as long as it gives a good outlook for 2017 during its November 2016 investor meeting, I think we might see a new multi-year high for Intel's stock price come year-end 2016.