Applied Materials, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMAT) is scheduled to announce its fiscal first-quarter 2012 results on February 16, 2012. We witness only one upward movement in analyst estimates in the build-up to the release.
AMAT’s fourth quarter 2011 pro forma earnings were in line with the Zacks Consensus Estimate as lower revenue and margins were partially offset by strong opex management and a lower-than-expected tax rate.
Revenue growth was weak across the Display and EES (solar) segments, with the Silicon Systems Group (SSG) performing in line with expectations. However, AMAT’s penetration in Asiadeepened significantly, helping the Applied Global Services (AGS) segment exceed expectations.
Orders in the quarter were down 33.0% sequentially due to order declines in display (-91% sequentially) and EES (-3% sequentially). The lower demand for TVs and mobile devices in the Display segment and excess capacity in the EES segment were the main reasons for the decline. Gross margins also declined sequentially to 39.6% aslower volumes impacted cost absorption.
First Quarter Guidance
AMAT now projects first quarter revenue to decrease 5–15% sequentially, with SSG (including Varian) increasing 5–20% sequentially, AGS declining 10–20% (the combined effect of lower 200mm sales, lower utilization rates and the absence of thin film revenue), and Display and EES also falling 40–60%.The non-GAAP EPS is expected to come in at 8–16 cents a share. For the first quarter, the Zacks Consensus Estimate is pegged at 12 cents.Agreement of Analysts
Out of the 17 analysts providing estimates for the first quarter, none made any revisions in the last 30 days. For fiscal 2012, only 1 analyst made an upward revision over the same 30-day time period.
A few analysts expect a decent first quarter with earnings and revenue at the high end of the guidance but remain concerned about gross margins due to the increased exposure to Samsung.
The analysts believe that Display and EES sales will fall, but be in line with guidance, due to the ongoing solar and LCD panel inventory glut. They believe that pressure in both Display and EES will partially be offset by growth in Silicon, helping revenue to come in modestly above the mid-point of guidance, consistent with its peers including Lam Rearch (NASDAQ:LRCX), Novellus Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ:NVLS) and KLA-Tencor Corporation (NASDAQ:KLAC).
Additionally, though analysts see upside potential for Silicon orders, they do not anticipate an order recovery in Display or EES segments in the to-be-reported quarter, indicating continued sluggishness in these markets for some time.
However, a handful of analysts believe that the display business will improve in the upcoming quarter, banking on investments in LCD/OLED that they expect will enable recovery.
Magnitude of Estimate Revisions
In the past 30 days, there was no change to the Zacks Consensus Estimate for the first quarter but it increased a penny to 80 cents for fiscal 2012.
Over the 90-day period, the Zacks Consensus Estimate fell 6 cents to 12 cents for the first quarter and 22 cents for fiscal 2012.
The significant decline of 22 cents in the Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2012 clearly indicates the uncertainties in the semiconductor business and echoes the general pessimism for both display and solar in 2012.
We do not expect a strong first quarter due to limited visibility and lower overall semiconductor equipment spending levels. Though we believe that there is potential in the solar energy market over the long term, we remain cautious about the company's efforts since management has already missed several targets to bring its solar division to profitability.
We remain positive about Applied’s strong position in the semiconductor market, the solar business in China, a vast portfolio and strategic relationships, which will however be less effective in the current market scenario.
Applied, which competes with other large equipment makers, such as KLA-Tencor, Lam Research and Novellus Systems,holds a Zacks #3 Rank that translates into a short-term Hold rating.