Qualcomm ( QCOM) CFO Bill Keitel struck an optimistic note in an interview Thursday, but for now few investors are sharing his take on tech.
The San Diego wireless tech shop disappointed Wall Street by breaking with a long-established pattern of beating earnings expectations and raising coming targets. Qualcomm delivered on the first part late Wednesday, powering past fiscal first-quarter earnings estimates by a penny. But the company departed from plan by guiding second-quarter sales well below analysts' expectations. Qualcomm shares fell $3.12, or 8%, to $37.95 Thursday, putting them down 10% for the young year. Keitel didn't speak specifically to the stock action, but he indicated the company remains confident in its prospects. "I think we're off to a good start to what will be a big year," the financial chief told TheStreet.com Thursday. While Qualcomm has been known to make conservative appraisals of its business outlook on the first pass and then raise projections later, observers say there's a strong chance that the wireless standard bearer may have a real slowdown on its hands. With the wireless industry's biggest year now in the bag, it seems a creeping pessimism has swept through the market. While few industry observers are calling for a steep dropoff in cell phone sales this year, almost no one expects 2005 to sustain the torrid 20% growth rate of last year. Investors have found new reason to worry in the dim prospects shared recently by other wireless outfits. Last week, Samsung issued a weak cell phone sales report for the quarter ended in December. That was followed Tuesday by Motorola ( MOT), which posted strong year-end numbers but offered up a tepid first-quarter outlook. Qualcomm's finance chief says he tries to avoid putting too much stock in his stock's daily swings, but he thinks this week investors may have been a little more nervous than normal. As for Qualcomm, Keitel says the company hasn't strayed far from its typical pattern. "Typically, in this quarter we see a seasonal effect," Keitel said in an interview Thursday. After the big holiday sales in the December quarter, "there tends to be a period of inventory workoff." Though aware of analysts' estimates, he says "you can't manage to Street expectations, because sooner or later it would hurt the shareholder." "Our forecasts tend to be lower than what others are forecasting," says Keitel, adding "and I always hope the other guys are right." American Technology Research analyst Albert Lin has a buy rating on Qualcomm and says this may turn out to be one of those dips that later turns out to have been a buying opportunity. "In the past 18 months, Qualcomm's pattern of guiding low and then raising and beating has given it a relatively steady upward traveling stock chart," Lin wrote in a note Thursday. "The selloffs in prior quarters almost disappear in this longer-term view."