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Intel sees 2020 revenue above estimates as chip demand recovers

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Intel Corp on Thursday cemented the market view that a prolonged slowdown in the chip industry is starting to lift after forecasting full-year revenue and profit above analysts' estimates driven by cloud computing demand.

[BENGALURU] Intel Corp on Thursday cemented the market view that a prolonged slowdown in the chip industry is starting to lift after forecasting full-year revenue and profit above analysts' estimates driven by cloud computing demand.

The company's sales in its closely watched data center business jumped 19 per cent, helping it beat fourth-quarter profit and revenue estimates and sending its shares up 7 per cent in extended trading.

Chief financial officer George Davis said in an interview that sales to cloud computing providers were up 48 per cent year-over-year in the fourth quarter, a trend that also drove the company's forecasts.

Mr Davis did not name specific customers, but so-called "hyperscale" cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Corp in the United States and Alibaba Group Holding and Baidu Inc all purchase Intel chips for data centers whose capacity they rent out to large businesses.

"What we're seeing is very strong demand from cloud players," Mr Davis told Reuters. "I have to give credit to the hyperscalers for this quarter."

Intel said its transition to a newer generation of chipmaking technology was progressing better than it expected and that it would boost its capacity to make chips for personal computers, in a sign that the manufacturing woes that plagued the chipmakers over the past year were starting to ease.

"We think this is going to help us close the gap to customer demand that we've been experiencing. We think all of this is (going to be) resolved in 2020 and we'll actually be able to start building inventory at the end of the year, which we have not been able to do for two years," Mr Davis told Reuters.

Intel's positive outlook follows an equally upbeat forecast from chipmaker Texas Instruments on Wednesday. Analysts view 2020 as a recovery year for semiconductors, driven by 5G spending for both smartphones and network upgrades.

However, Intel's Davis cautioned that the positive forecast was not directly attributable to the phase one trade deal signed between US and Chinese officials last week.

"It's a little fresh to really have a good understanding of how that specific trade deal is going to have an impact on (Intel's customers') thinking," Mr Davis said. "But we like the demand signals we're getting."

After years of acquisitions outside its core area of processing chips under previous leaders, Intel chief executive Bob Swan has set a goal of becoming more disciplined about spending, slowing investments in areas like memory chips and shedding struggling businesses.

Intel has doubled down on its core markets such as personal computers and data centers, both of which beat analysts' fourth-quarter expectations.

The Santa Clara, California-based chipmaker expects fiscal year 2020 revenue of about US$73.5 billion, compared with analysts' average estimate of US$72.25 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Revenue from Intel's client computing business, which caters to PC makers and is still the biggest contributor to sales, rose 2 per cent to US$10 billion in the fourth quarter, beating FactSet estimates of US$9.74 billion.

Net revenue rose 8.3 per cent to US$20.21 billion, beating estimate of US$19.23 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Excluding items, the company earned US$1.52 per share, above estimates of US$1.25.

REUTERS