In a likely indication of the drift to come, Intel ( INTC) shares slid back to their late-summer lows Friday after the company confirmed ongoing supply issues and said business was merely following expected seasonal increases. The update late Thursday from the world's largest chipmaker failed to motivate investors to significantly change their stance on the stock. Shares were down recently almost 3% to $25.32, but this simply returned Intel to a three-month low logged a week ago. Intel said Thursday it is still on pace to book sales growth in the third quarter that will surpass growth logged during the first two quarters of the year. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company also cited ongoing strength in the notebook computer market, as well as the overall computing market. Specifically, Intel
narrowed its third-quarter sales goal to between $9.8 billion and $10 billion, maintaining its original targeted midpoint of $9.9 billion, and said gross margins will likely be slightly above 60%. Analysts' estimates didn't change much in the wake of the update, with the consensus sales target still pegged at $9.92 billion, according to Thomson First Call. The earnings target slipped to 35 cents a share from 36 cents ahead of the update as some analysts took into account a higher tax bill for the quarter. Intel's stock retreat on Friday continued its pullback of the past seven weeks, as investors remain suspicious of Intel's ability to keep improving financial results, most notably its gross margins. While the latest update did nothing to dispel that idea, it hasn't put a damper on the significance of the months ahead. Still, there was a sense that the near term will be lacking for investors expecting actionable grist. Even Intel's chief financial officer was blase about the results. "This is pretty much a non-news update," said Andy Bryant during a conference call late Thursday.
While the lack of news isn't necessarily bad for investors, it does present some challenges. For example, during the past six weeks since Intel reported second-quarter results, company-specific news flow has been absent. Instead, several computer makers confirmed Intel's earlier statements about its inability to keep up with chipset demand. Also, during a technical conference in August, Intel announced nothing more earth-shattering than some
new product iterations for a couple of years away. Lacking any positive catalysts, the company's stock drifted lower from mid-July through this week. Many analysts have predicted that semiconductor stocks overall could be in a bit of a void between July and October. So far, that seems to have been accurate. A few other chip companies stepped up this week to provide their takes on the business environment and they largely confirmed the status quo. Xilinx ( XLNX) and Altera ( ALTR) both maintained their sales targets, while National Semiconductor ( NSM) and Texas Instruments ( TXN) continued to benefit from analog momentum. Meanwhile, options trading on semiconductor stocks Friday reflected the lack of expected news. "The events are over," said Alison Regan, market intelligence analyst with Susquehanna Financial Group. "The midquarter updates are over and we're seeing investors sell out of their September option positions in the Semiconductor HOLDRs ( SMH) because they expire in a week and there's nothing going on." In effect, if investors weren't significantly stirred to action by the updates they heard from the sector this week, it's unlikely they'll find a reason to make major moves in the absence of any updates as the market sits midway between earnings seasons. Attention has already turned to the important fourth quarter; until there's a sense of whether results will be better or worse than expected, Intel's drift seems likely to continue.