SAN FRANCISCO -- Atheros ( ATHR) said it will escape some of the sting of the economic slowdown in the current quarter, thanks to a slew of new products. The Santa Clara, Calif., company provided a financial forecast on Monday that, while hardly rosy, was brighter than those made in recent days by other chip firms, sending its stock up nearly 7% to $17.24 in extended trading. "We, like others in the semiconductor industry, face strong economic headwinds in the coming quarter and are cautious in our outlook," finance chief Jack Lazar said in a post-earnings conference call Monday. But Lazar added later: "We do have some pretty good things happening here as far as product cycles that we think are pretty independent of the overall economy." Technically, Atheros' forecasted revenue range of $131.2 million to $138.1 million is below Wall Street expectations of $145 million. But as has been the case with just about every chip firm reporting earnings in recent weeks, investors appear to assume the average analyst estimates for the fourth quarter are too high, and are more focused on how sharply sales will decline in the next three months. Atheros said sales will be flat to down 5% sequentially, compared to the double-digit percentage drops predicted by other chipmakers recently including Texas Instruments ( TXN) and Intersil ( ISIL). And Atheros said its gross profit margin might even increase sequentially, with the company projecting a range of 49% to 50%, vs. 49.4% in the third quarter.
Atheros said EPS in the current quarter will range between 36 cents and 40 cents, compared to 38 cents expected by analysts, though Atheros noted that the guidance includes a tax benefit of roughly $2.8 million. One new product helping Atheros weather the weakening economy is its line of wireless networking chips for consumer electronics, such as cell phones and a forthcoming video gaming gadget. Atheros said it will begin to ship its Rocm family of chips in volume during the fourth quarter, boosting sales in its consumer business. Atheros also announced a new line of WiFi chips for PCs on Monday that it believes will help it gain market share in the fast-growing netbook and low-cost laptop PC business. The new chips are based on the latest 802.11 N standard, but offer a more limited set of features than high-end 802.11 N products, allowing Atheros to sell it at a lower price. CEO Craig Barratt said the focus on value could prove popular with customers in tough economic times. Of course, there is a risk that the new lower-priced WiFi chips might steal sales from Atheros' own more expensive products. Asked about that potential during Monday's conference call, Barratt said the new chips were less a threat than an opportunity to expand the overall market. Atheros competes with chip heavyweights Intel ( INTC), Broadcom ( BRCM) and Marvell Technology ( MRVL) in the market for wireless networking chips. Atheros' stock has fallen nearly 50% in the past three months.
The company said its business selling chips for the wireless home routers available in retail stores and through telecommunications carriers will weaken in the current quarter. For the three months ended Sept. 30, Atheros said sales increased 30% year-over-year to $138.1 million, in line with analyst expectations. Atheros posted net income of $10.1 million, or 16 cents a share, in the third quarter, vs. net income of $9.67 million, or 16 cents a share, at this time last year. Excluding stock compensation expenses, as well as a $4.3 million investment impairment, Atheros said it earned 37 cents a share. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters were looking for 35 cents a share, excluding the stock option compensation expenses, and presumably, the investment impairment charge.