Intel (Nasdaq: INTC), the No. 1 chipmaker, is scheduled to report first-quarter results after markets close Tuesday. As always, Intel's report will be a bellwether for the semiconductor industry.
Earnings are expected to be good but not as dramatically higher than last year, when they were compared with the 2010 downturn.
Early chip signals have been bullish: last week, market researcher Gartner (NYSE: IT) reported first-quarter PC shipments rose nearly 2 percent. The Semiconductor Industry Association boosted its full-year forecast. Intel's flash-memory partner, Micron Technology (NYSE: MU) reported better-than-expected second-quarter results.
Here are some guidelines:
Look at the estimates. Analysts surveyed by FactSet Research expect Intel to report earnings around $2.5 billion, or 50 cents a share, on revenue of $12.84 billion, compared with $3.2 billion, or 56 cents, on revenue of $12.8 billion, a year ago.
Intel's results usually don't exceed estimates. At UBS, analyst Uche Onji agrees with the 50-cent estimate, noting that average sales prices for new microprocessors remain firm. At Tokeneke Research, analyst Dan Scovel also expects Intel to match estimates.
Look at the forecast. As the No. 1 semiconductor maker, Intel usually provides a forecast for the coming quarter. If Intel's usual business outlook is good, that should indicate new demand for PCs, servers and other other products using its new Ultrabook chips and older processors.
Look at the cash position. Unlike many chipmakers that outsource production, Intel retains just about all its wafer fabrication in-house, with a global manufacturing presence in countries including China, Ireland and Israel, with assembly and test plants in Malaysia, China, Costa Rica and Vietnam.
In the fourth quarter, Intel reported cash and investments exceeding $16.2 billion, plenty to fund continued expansion as well as research and development. Last year, Intel invested $8.4 billion in research, more than International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM).
New product forecast. Besides detailing sales of Ultrabooks for the ultralight market battling the iPad from Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), the world's most valuable technology company, CEO Paul Otellini may announce when the new Romley chip for advanced servers will come as well as first chips built on the smallest-ever 14 nanometer technology.
Stock performance. Intel shares, which traded at their 52-week high of $28.55 on Monday, are already up 16 percent in 2012 and 43 percent for the past 52 weeks.
Intel management won't make predictions but analysts will. At UBS, Orje rates the shares a buy with a target of $34. At RBC Capital, analyst Doug Freedman rates Intel outperform but with a price target of $33.