Intel forecast misses estimates; shares tumble

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By Max A. Cherney and Arsheeya Bajwa

(Reuters) -Intel forecast second-quarter revenue and profit below market estimates on Thursday, sending its shares tumbling roughly 8% as it faces weak demand for its traditional data center and PC chips and trails in the surging market for AI components.

Businesses have prioritized spending on advanced and speedy artificial intelligence server chips, hurting demand for Intel's central processing units (CPUs), which have been the mainstay chip powering data centers for decades.

Helped by its software, Nvidia dominates the market for AI chips with its powerful graphics processing units (GPUs), and commanded roughly 80% share last year.

Intel's other largest market - PC chips - has suffered a difficult two years, but has shown signs of life at the beginning of 2024.

While Intel lost $11 billion in stock market value following its results late on Thursday, Nvidia's value grew by $40 billion, lifted by strong results from Microsoft and Alphabet as the two cloud heavyweights race to expand their AI product lineups.

"Intel is still very much a 'show me' story. So I think when you get quarters where they don't execute and they promise more at a future point, that there's some skepticism around their ability to deliver," said Matthew Bryson, an analyst at Wedbush.

In addition to deploying Nvidia's AI chips, Microsoft and Alphabet's Google design in-house chips for their data centers.

Intel's Gaudi AI chips are likely to achieve more than $500 million in revenue this year, CEO Pat Gelsinger said in an interview. Intel launched its third generation Gaudi 3 processor in April in an effort to better compete with Nvidia.

"What's most exciting to me is enterprise (AI) customers," Gelsinger said. "I think ultimately the monetization of AI is when it starts transforming enterprises."

Shares of the Santa Clara, California-based company fell to $32.35 in extended trading, their lowest since August.

Rival Advanced Micro Devices forecast it would sell $3.5 billion worth of AI chips this year when it reported earnings in January. Shares of AMD, which also competes against Intel in PC processors, added 2.6% following Intel's report.

Despite a lackluster start to the year and its weak second-quarter forecast, Gelsinger said almost all of Intel's products would rebound in the second half of 2024.

"It's a first-half, second-half story for the industry," Gelsinger said. "We see essentially every business of Intel (fares) better in the second half of the year."

Nvidia's GPUs dominate the AI market, as large and small companies have sought to acquire tens of billions of dollars worth of them. Surging demand and Nvidia's limited supply of these advanced chips has left Intel and AMD with opportunities to take market share.

Intel is optimistic about personal computer sales in the second half of the year because it anticipates a fresh PC upgrade cycle around a new version of Microsoft's Windows operating system. The company also expects software vendors launching next generation products to help lift demand for PCs and Intel's chips, Gelsinger said.

But the supply of its most advanced PC chips has been limited by a bottleneck in its manufacturing process, executives said in the conference call.

Intel expects second-quarter revenue of $12.5 billion to $13.5 billion, compared with analysts' average estimate of $13.57 billion, LSEG data showed.

Intel forecast second-quarter adjusted earnings of 10 cents per share, also below expectations.

Total revenue of $12.72 billion in the first quarter marginally missed expectations of $12.78 billion. Sales at its data center business rose 5% to $3 billion during the period.

Intel's contract manufacturing business, or foundry, is working to catch up with industry leader TSMC, but profits remain years away. Revenue from the foundry business fell 10% in the first quarter.

During the conference call on Thursday, Intel executives said its foundry business would see quarter-over-quarter improvement until 2030. The company disclosed foundry operating losses of $2.5 billion in the first quarter as part of its plans to report foundry operations as a standalone unit.

Adjusted gross margin rose to 45.1% from 38.4% in the 2023 first quarter, beating analysts' consensus estimate of 44.3%.

(Reporting by Arsheeya Bajwa in Bengaluru and Max A. Cherney in San Francisco; Editing by Shilpi Majumdar, Richard Chang and Jamie Freed)