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Intel stuns market with Q4 sales miss

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Lower than expected PC chip sales forced Intel into a rare revenue miss during its fourth quarter. Investors then punished the chip-maker in the after-hours markets, sending Intel shares down as much as 10 per cent.

Intel's Q4 revenue rose six per cent to $10.2bn. That figure, however, fell below a previous forecast provided by the company of fourth-quarter revenue between $10.4bn and $10.6bn. Such a miss indicates that Intel unexpectedly saw sales drop off at the tail end of the fourth quarter.

Intel attributed the sales slide to "lower than expected desktop processor unit shipments and prices."

"2005 was our third consecutive year of double-digit revenue and earnings growth, leading to the best operating results in the company's history," said Intel CEO, Paul Otellini. "Although we fell below our expectations for the fourth quarter, we enter 2006 with exciting new products, such as the Intel Core Duo and Viiv."

It has been quite a while since Intel's chip revenue fell year-over-year, but fall it did during the fourth quarter. Intel's Digital Enterprise Group reported chip sales of $4.93bn, which compares with sales of $5.26bn in the same period last year.

AMD fans will no doubt claim a victory here, saying strong server and desktop chips have finally taken a toll on Intel's bottom line. We'll see if such boasting holds when AMD reports fourth-quarter results tomorrow.

During the fourth quarter, Intel's net income jumped 16 per cent year-over-year to $2.5bn. For the full year, Intel enjoyed a 14 per cent revenue hike to $38.8bn from $34.2bn in 2004. Net income rose 15 per cent to $8.7bn.

Turning back to the fourth quarter, Intel boosted sales in Japan and throughout the Asia-Pacific region, seeing a double-digit rise in revenue. Sales in the Americas, however, dropped 10 per cent while Europe was flat.

Strong notebook sales helped Intel out once again, offsetting the weaker "enterprise" processor sales.

The strength of Intel's mobile chip group was especially apparent when comparing full-year figures. In 2005, Intel moved $8.7bn worth of notebook chips compared to $5.7bn in 2004. By contrast, Intel shipped $19.41bn worth of desktop and server chips in 2005 versus $19.43bn in 2004. AMD's impact seems clear in those figures.

In the first quarter of 2006, Intel expects to pull in between $9.1bn and $9.7bn. For the full year, Intel is looking for revenue to rise between six per cent and nine per cent. Despite winning Apple's "massive" computer business, Intel does not appear to be feeling terribly bullish about the year to come. ®

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