I joined CNBC’s Bernie Lo on Asia Squawk Box to talk about Intel’s (INTC) prospects after a weaker-than-expected first quarter outlook:
Intel sold off after hours on a modestly weak first quarter outlook, but fourth quarter results were actually very good. Revenues were in line with analyst expectations, and earnings per share actually beat expectations by a wide margin. The Street was expecting 66 cents per share for the quarter, and Intel delivered 74 cents. For the quarter, earnings were up 45%, and for the full year earnings were up 22%. All told, 2014 was a great year.
What spooked the market was the sanguine outlook for PC processors. The PC group, which makes up about 60% of Intel’s revenues, saw sales increase by 3% in the fourth quarter and 4% over the course of 2014. But the outlook for the first quarter was a little less optimistic than hoped.
It was my view going into the release–and the view of most Intel bulls–that strong corporate spending would lead to decent, if not quite spectacular, growth in the PC group. Companies have avoided computer upgrades for years, preferring to cut costs by squeezing an extra year or two out of existing machines. But with the existing stock of PCs aging and the employment picture looking up, companies will eventually have no choice but to spend a little more on their employees’ machines.
It’s also worth noting that we have a new version of Microsoft (MSFT) Windows coming out later this year that should unlock some pent-up demand. Windows 8 was a miserable failure. It was jarring, hard to learn, and its dual environments (traditional PC and modern “metro”) made no sense. Windows 10 eliminate most of the aspects of Windows 8 that users hated while also adding some nice “Apple-like” enhancements. PCs will never enjoy the growth they did in the pre-smartphone era, but I expect the second half of 2015 to be solid.
Meanwhile, Intel’s server business is on fire. Data center revenues were up 25% on the quarter and 18% for all of 2014. With big data analytics stronger than ever, Intel’s growth here should continue to impress.
Mobile is still an insignificant source of revenue, despite the ton of cash Intel has thrown at it. As I explained to Bernie, I would view Intel’ mobile presence as a “call option.” There is a good chance that, like most options, it expires worthless, but there is a small but significant chance it pays off in a big way.
Regardless, I still like Intel at current prices. The large surge of capital spending we saw a few years ago has subsided, which makes a lot more cash available for dividends and share repurchases. Intel spent $10.8 billion repurchasing 332 million shares of stock in 2014. And over the past 12 years, Intel has reduced its share count by nearly a third.
After a long two-and-a-half-year hiatus in which its dividend didn’t grow, Intel also announced late last year that it would be raising its dividend again. Intel took a break from raising its dividend to push more of its cash into capital spending. Well, those investments have now been made, and Intel will likely have a lot more cash on hand going forward. Intel raised its divided at a 18% annual clip over the past decade. That might be hard to repeat, but I certainly expect dividend growth that will outpace the broader market.