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Qualcomm Misses Earnings Estimates

Updated from 5:38 p.m. EST

Qualcomm (QCOM) couldn't pull it off.

In a disappointing finish to its fiscal 2001, Qualcomm fell short of expectations, posting a profit of 23 cents a share on $682 million in revenues in its fourth quarter, instead of the 25 cents and $694.65 million that the Street had anticipated. Qualcomm attributed the shortfall to items outside its core business of wireless technology, such as loans and accounting changes.

The company made conservative projections for the December quarter, estimating 5% to 10% revenue growth in the first quarter of fiscal 2002, or $716 million to $750 million, and earnings between 21 cents and 25 cents a share. Analysts were hoping for a rosier profit outlook; before Qualcomm's announcement, consensus estimates for the first quarter had called for improvement to a profit of 27 cents and $746 million in revenue. Qualcomm predicts that 85 million to 95 million CDMA phones will be sold in 2002 -- more than a 20% increase from Qualcomm's most recent projections for 75 million CDMA handset sales in 2001, which it reiterated Tuesday. Qualcomm expects to make less in royalties on those phones, however, because of what it believes will be a 10% drop in average selling prices for the handsets. ASPs slipped around 10% in fiscal 2001.

Chipset sales fell from 14 million in the third quarter to 13 million in the fourth. Qualcomm expects to reverse direction in the December quarter and ship 15 million to 16 million chipsets. Interest income dropped year over year from $68 million to $38 million, and it is expected to continue sliding in the first quarter of fiscal 2002. During Tuesday trading, investors pushed Qualcomm stock up $1.65, or 3%, in hopes of positive results.

Qualcomm expects next-generation 1X chips to make up a bigger portion of its chipset business, which is a positive for the company because the newer chips sell for higher prices. After shipping 6 million 1X chips in fiscal 2001, the company expects 1X to account for 6 million chips in the first quarter of fiscal 2002 alone.

Back in July, Qualcomm prepared the Street for 25 cents a share in earnings and $704 million in sales in the fourth quarter. In its fourth-quarter earnings release, Qualcomm attributed its miss to loan activity to carrier partner Pegaso of Mexico, not to operational deficiencies. Qualcomm also referred to new accounting board rules, saying a ruling on the recognition of licensing revenues shaved $32 million off its fourth-quarter results. Qualcomm previously would have booked more upfront revenues on its contracts than is now recommended.

Qualcomm has little exposure to Europe's wireless slump. The company indicated that Latin America may not be a good performer in 2002 as the region wades through economic difficulties. Management referenced an upcoming sub-$100 CDMA 1X phone that will be available before the end of 2002 as a potential driver of handset sales despite the region's slump. Qualcomm expects its favorite markets -- North America, Korea and Japan, as well as big growth areas China and India -- to be strong. CEO Irwin Jacobs lamented that Cingular in North America recently opted for a GSM rather than CDMA rollout path, but he argued that carriers that shun CDMA will be at a "disadvantage."

A year ago, Qualcomm posted 25 cents a share in earnings with $635 million in revenues in the fourth quarter as the wireless market made an early decline into 2002. The CDMA technology developer's stock has fallen more than 11% since it reported 22 cents a share earnings last quarter on $640 million in revenue.

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