Monday, November 14, 2011

AMAT 3Q11 preview: Trough over, incline ahead

Analysts give their expectations about Applied Materials' fiscal 4Q11 results, due out Nov.16 -- viewed as bellwether for the chip equipment industry as a whole, and more recently related ones e.g. solar and display manufacturing.

Industry watchers on average are generally looking for (overall): $2.16B revenues (-25% Y/Y) and $0.20-$0.21 EPS (-42%); that EPS prediction has sunk from $0.33 three months ago. FY11 revenue expectations are $10.53B, up 10%. AMAT's original guidance issued Aug. 24 was for a -15% to -30% decline in sales (i.e. $1.67B-$2.03B) and EPS $0.16-$0.24.

What the numbers should show, argues Barclays' CJ Muse (4Q11 revenues/EPS/orders: $2.20B/$0.20/$1.70B), is something entirely expected: that semiconductor equipment demand hit bottom this fall (July-Sept), and has been picking up toward the end of the year thanks to the chip-triumvirate of TSMC, Samsung, and Intel. And signs might indicate order growth momentum will carry right through 1H12. He notes, though, that an improving semiconductor business is offset by likely declines in both display and solar.

Part of the boost in AMAT's SSG (chip) business will come a full quarter inclusion of numbers from the Varian Semi. Equip. Assoc. business which it finally closed on Nov.10, and in which there is a pickup in business, Muse writes. (Most of VSEA's numbers will initially be embedded in the SSG group, he notes.) For AMAT's January 2012 quarter (fiscal 1Q12) he's more optimistic than he was a few weeks ago: $2.15B in sales (vs. $1.90B) and $0.19 EMS (vs. $0.16), with overall orders up 20% and VSEA-aided SSG up 35% (flat in solar and services, +20% in displays).

Credit Suisse's Satya Kumar (4Q11 revenues/EPS/orders: $2.13B/$0.20/$1.70B) warns that AMAT's competitors are enjoying an upswing too, and warns of "stagnant/declining" marketshare in WFE vs. KLA-Tencor, Lam Research, and ASML. He invokes Gartner data showing a steadily AMAT marketshare decline: 21% to 17+% from 2004-2010, and in 2011 down another 18% Y/Y in its core semi business while macro WFE has actually risen 5%. TSMC's filings indicate less AMAT business at that key account, too (25% in 2005 to 15% in 2011). Why? AMAT's market dominance, he explains, is in product areas (e.g. deposition) "that have not benefited as much from the increase in capital intensity," e.g. litho and inspection.

Aside from semiconductor manufacturing, Kumar also lays down some bets on AMAT's other businesses; 25% of AMAT's sales in the current calendar year are from solar and displays, but he sees this withering by half over the next 12 months. He sees display spending -17% in 2011 and "at similar levels next year," though AMAT could get a 10% uplift in display tool sales as OLED and high-resolution LCDs move to larger panel sizes where AMAT's share is more prominent -- LG, for example, is planning Gen-8 OLED production by mid-2012 and Samsung is budgeting 7T won (US $6.2B) for OLED in 2012.

One area of softness continues to be solar. Kumar points to persistent oversupply and weak demand as a bad combination for pricing and margins (more like negative margins for many suppliers), which has resulted in "a virtual standstill in capacity expansion," Kumar writes. He's modeling a punishing -73% dropoff in AMAT's EES (solar biz) 3Q sales, though he expresses doubt that AMAT will aggressively cut costs in this unit -- since any profits from the semi side of the biz can be used to "subsidize" EES costs (pun likely intended).

Like Muse, Kumar sees a 20% bump in Jan. quarter (F4Q11) orders, and a 70-100bps bump in AMAT's gross margins thanks to VSEA's higher margin profile and possibly lowering AMAT's tax rate. For 2012, he is a tad more bearish, though: $9.1B revenues and $0.82 EPS. -- J.M.

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