Intel Shares Fall After Slashed Forecast

Shares of Intel Corp. (INTC) fell nearly 8 percent Friday after the computer chip giant's management lowered the company's financial projections after concluding businesses and consumers aren't in a spending mood.

The letdown is the latest indication that the high-tech industry isn't recovering from the dot-com doldrums as robustly as many investors anticipated. Expectations of much better times helped lift many technology stocks last year, but the sector has been slumping badly in recent months as a spate of companies have missed their financial targets.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel said late Thursday that its third-quarter revenue will range from $8.3 billion to $8.6 billion. Management previously forecast revenue ranging from $8.6 billion to $9.2 billion for the three-month period ending Sept. 25.

The mean revenue estimate among industry analysts had been $8.9 billion, according to Thomson First Call.

Adhering to its usual practice, Intel didn't provide precise earnings guidance in its update, but management warned gross profit margins are sagging. The company expects the third-quarter margin to range from 56 percent to 60 percent, down from its previous estimate of 58 percent to 62 percent.

Intel isn't living up to expectations because the global economy appears to be losing steam, said Andy Bryant, Intel's chief financial officer. "What we are seeing is pretty uniform around the world," Bryant told analysts during a Thursday conference call.

Intel shares slid $1.66 to $19.97 Friday on the Nasdaq Stock Market (search).

Investors have become increasingly disenchanted with tech stocks in recent months, reversing the prevailing sentiment of a year ago. The tech-laden Nasdaq composite index (search) surged 50 percent last year, but has declined 6 percent so far this year. All the erosion has occurred in the last two months — a stretch marked by a flurry of disappointing second-quarter results.

Intel's warning may now raise anxieties about the third quarter.

Like many other companies, Intel is being hurt by slackening demand from customers. It's a headache that caused many of the nation's largest retailers to release disheartening monthly sales figures on Thursday.

The summer historically heralds a sluggish sales quarter for Intel, but this season seemed to be exceptionally lethargic, First Albany Corp. analyst Auguste Richard said.

The malaise may reflect one of the problems that plagued retailers — a lackluster back-to-school shopping season. Intel relies on the beginning of the year to spark sales of computers.

But consumers don't seem as eager to buy computers, particularly the most sophisticated desktop models, said Moors & Cabot Inc. analyst Patrick Ho, who believes higher gas prices are one of the factors hurting Intel.

"When many consumers are paying 20 cents per gallon more for gasoline, it starts to add up and they begin to wonder if they need to spend an extra $800 to $1,000 on a computer," Ho said.

Bryant linked the "vast majority" of Intel's shortfall on decreased consumer spending, but declined to answer a question about whether higher gas prices might be driving the frugality.

With Labor Day weekend still looming, there's still a chance consumers might indulge in a holiday shopping spree, but Bryant isn't counting on it. "You don't get the same sense of momentum building in September that you would expect for this time of year," he said.

Some industry analysts are worried that the sales slowdown will saddle Intel with a glut of unused chips in its inventory, a development that might force Intel to write off a substantial portion of the backlog. Bryant downplayed that possibility Thursday.

Even though Intel's second-quarter profits nearly doubled, this hasn't been a banner year for the chip maker. Unlike last year, the company hasn't been able to develop a hot new microprocessor to spur businesses and consumers to upgrade to higher-end computers — a predicament that has narrowed Intel's profit margins, analysts said.

The frustrations, which have included product delays and manufacturing missteps, prompted CEO Craig Barrett to send Intel employees a memo in July urging them to do a better job.