Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) ignited a firestorm in chip-making equipment stocks last month when it promised to invest $9 billion in capital investments this year.

Nanometrics (Nasdaq: NANO) loved that announcement even more than rival Sanmina-SCI (Nasdaq: SANM) did since it meant more equipment sales to Intel -- and also to rivals hoping to keep up with the half-ton silverback of chips. Last night's fourth-quarter report took a bit of the shine off Intel's influence, because Nanometrics missed analyst targets pretty badly.

Sales jumped 75% year over year to $46.1 million, but the analyst consensus stood at $52.9 million. The GAAP bottom line looked tremendous at $1.12 per share, but most of that profit came from a one-time tax benefit. The adjusted $0.34 of net income per share fell far short of the $0.51 analyst estimate.

A rosy view of the future kept Nanometrics from falling any harder than today's 5% price drop. The semiconductor industry as a whole doubled capital investments in 2010 compared to 2009, according to Nanometrics CEO Tim Stultz. But that investment level was even higher in the glory days of 2006 and 2007, and Stultz expects a continuing trend back to those good old levels.

The company stopped giving guidance back in 2007 because of an uncertain business outlook and a lack of faith in Nanometrics' own execution. Management is getting back into the guidance game since those negative factors have subsided, with this beautifully Foolish caveat: "We will do our best to perform toward those levels, but we will not compromise our future growth or profitability simply to meet the guidance or consensus estimates."

With that in mind, Nanometrics expects to see about $0.40 of earnings per share and about $58 million in sales next quarter, which is in line with earnings expectations and optimistic in terms of sales. Just don't hold the company too tightly to those numbers.

Add Nanometrics to your watchlist to follow the chip equipment sector up close and personal.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Intel is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. The Fool owns shares of and has bought calls on Intel. Motley Fool Options has recommended buying calls on Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.