Last night's third-quarter report revealed the strongest gross margins Intel has seen in a while, at 58.9%. Earnings clocked in at $0.35 per diluted share, $0.05 higher than last year, despite nearly flat sales of $10.2 billion -- just 1% above year-ago levels.
The company is flexing its pricing muscles, keeping average selling prices steady as it delivers record unit shipments. One fly in the gross margin Chardonnay is the ultra-mobile Atom chip, which doesn't come with the same massive margins that a Core 2 processor commands. But in the long run, this newcomer should be a fast-growing stream of revenue dollars, albeit at lower margins.
Some analysts see Intel's margin muscle as a good sign for rival AMD
Intel CEO Paul Otellini gave credit for the steady selling prices to his product mix, where high-margin notebook chips were selling faster than the more pedestrian desktop versions. That argument syncs up with sales figures from the likes of Dell
He also saw Intel in a stronger competitive position these days, thanks to a strong product portfolio and more advanced manufacturing processes than the competition. If this is the actual truth rather than corporate bluster -- and independent market reports will soon tell that tale -- then this strong performance may indeed be just Intel's to enjoy, not a sectorwide upswing.
And Otellini doesn't particularly fear AMD's new manufacturing strategy, either. "From my perspective, nothing has changed," he told analysts in the earnings call. "You have to put capital expenses in the ground and build factories and develop technology. So the food chain really hasn't changed in terms of the ecosystem except that there's one more person perhaps looking for a return in the equation."
That's all true, but he forgets that the new deal shifts the financial burden of making those investments from AMD's fragile balance sheet to oil-rich Arabian investors. The development process likewise moves to a consortium led by Big Blue IBM
So enjoy the calm seas amid financial storms while you can, Intel investors. Just don't dismiss the competition out of hand. You'll run out of margaritas eventually.
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Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in AMD, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings or a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.