Intel shares tumble on new chip delay to 2019

Analysts are focused instead on Intel’s timeline for its new 10-nanometer manufacturing despite of strong 2Q results

SAN FRANCISCOIntel Corp, the world’s second-biggest semiconductor maker, fell as much as 8.8% last Friday after executives said a key new chip technology wouldn’t be out until late next year, prompting concerns the company could be vulnerable to rivals who are accelerating their own push into the field.

Even as Intel reported strong results for the second quarter (2Q) and raised its sales target for the full year, analysts focused instead on the company’s timeline for its new 10-nanometer manufacturing. Intel will have chips using that technology in personal computers (PCs) on sale in the second half of 2019 (2H19), the company said last Thursday on a conference call to discuss earnings. Server chips will follow after that, executives said.

Improvements to semiconductor designs being made using existing manufacturing lines will keep Intel’s offerings competitive in the meantime, the executives said.

Intel shares fell the most in three months to US$47.57 (RM195.04). Before the results were released, they’d gained 13% this year compared to a 10% gain by the Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index. At least two analysts downgraded their ratings on the stock last Friday.

Christopher Danely, an analyst at Citigroup Global Markets, cited the “10 nanometer debacle” as a reason to cut his recommendation on Intel stock to ‘Neutral’ from ‘Buy’ and he trimmed the price target to US$50 from US$64. Vivek Araya, an analyst at Merrill Lynch, also downgraded the stock and said the delays offer rivals including Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, Advanced Micro Devices Inc, Nvidia Corp and Xilinx Inc the possibility to “leapfrog” Intel.

When asked whether Intel was providing its rivals with a window of opportunity, Intel interim CEO Bob Swan defended the company’s current lineup and reiterated the timeline for the new technology.

“We have a set of leadership products through the end of 2018 and into 2019 that we feel very good about,” he said in an interview on Bloomberg TV. And for 10 nanometer “we will be having products on the shelf in the 1H19.”

The delay overshadowed what was otherwise a largely positive earnings report. Intel said revenue in the current period will be about US$18.1 billion, plus or minus US$500 million, beating the average analyst estimate. For the full year, Intel increased its revenue target to a record US$69.5 billion.

The results are Intel’s first since the departure of CEO Brian Krzanich, who was removed in June after the chipmaker learned he’d had an extramarital relationship with a subordinate. Some analysts expressed concern that Intel could be more vulnerable amid a leadership vacuum. Intel is already struggling with manufacturing difficulties and rivals that are trying to muscle in on its lucrative dominance of computer chips.

Swan told analysts on a conference call that Intel’s biggest current problem is keeping up with demand, something it will struggle to do in the 2H of the year if the PC market continues to improve.

For the 2Q, Intel said net income rose to US$5 billion, or US$1.05 a share, from US$2.8 billion, or 58 cents, a year earlier. Sales rose 15% to US$17 billion. Intel’s data-centre group reported a revenue surge of 27% to US$5.5 billion and PC-processor sales climbed 6% from a year ago to US$8.7 billion.

Krzanich left Intel at record performance levels financially, but facing a raft of new challenges. The computer-processing market Intel dominates is reshaping itself to deal with the latest trends, such as artificial intelligence (AI). Swan stepped into the top post while the company searches for its next leader. He has told employees that he doesn’t want the job permanently, a person familiar with the matter has said.

Krzanich told investors and analysts on the company’s 1Q earnings conference call — one of his final appearances in front of a Wall Street audience — that Intel’s migration to new manufacturing technology was taking longer than planned. That ability to move quicker than rivals has been a cornerstone of the company’s success over the years, giving it the ability to field processors that are faster, smaller and cost less to make.

Under Krzanich’s leadership, Intel also tried to spread its bets. The company has added programmable chips for AI workloads in data centres; it’s jumped back into the booming memory-chip industry; and it’s making progress, after years of futility, in the market for chips that power mobile phones by becoming a supplier to Apple Inc.

But those endeavours aren’t big enough to rapidly change Intel’s trajectory. The company has more than an 80% market share in PC processors and a near-monopoly in server chips, generating a huge amount of revenue and profit that other divisions struggle to match. Even in a declining market, Intel’s PC-chip division had sales of US$34 billion last year, larger than the total chip revenue at any other chip company besides Samsung Electronics Co. — Bloomberg