Updated from 12:49 p.m. EDT MondayInvestors will be eagerly awaiting Intel's ( INTC) first-quarter results Tuesday for any hints of a tech sector rebound. Like most semiconductor firms, Intel has taken a battering during the economic downturn. The company's recent fourth-quarter revenue plummeted 14% year-over-year, and CEO Paul Otellini has promised to drive more operating efficiency. The chip giant, which reports after the market closes April 14, is expected to offer up at least some insight into the health of the tech sector. Intel did not give formal guidance during its fourth-quarter earnings call, citing lack of visibility, but it tentatively forecast first-quarter revenue to be around $7 billion. Analysts are estimating revenue of $6.97 billion, compared to $9.7 billion in the same period last year, and have also forecast first-quarter earnings of 2 cents a share. At least one analyst thinks that Intel can beat consensus estimates and predicts revenue of $7.1 billion and earnings of 4 cents a share. "We continue to believe Intel can beat or meet March EPS Street estimates, though top-line revenue at risk to $6.9 billion would not surprise us or change our investment thesis," wrote Doug Freedman, an analyst at Broadpoint AmTech, in a note released earlier this week. Freedman maintained his Buy rating and $17 price target for Intel and predicted a possible chip-sector upswing later this year. "We expect high unemployment and increased class enrollments to drive a stronger-than-expected back-to-school season," he wrote, suggesting increased demand for laptops and mini-computers.
With Intel sitting on a mountain of aging PC chips, the coming months will be crucial for the company. The tech bellwether's shares fell last week after chairman Craig Barrett expressed uncertainty about when the chip market will rebound. Much is riding on government stimulus packages, he said, adding that it could take between six and 18 months for their impact to be felt. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based firm, which recently launched its next-generation Nehalem chip, is looking to the server market to offset the recent slump in demand for computers. Intel is also under pressure to find new markets hungry for more lucrative advanced chips. Intel, which competes with AMD ( AMD) and Texas Instruments ( TXN), recently partnered with manufacturing giant GE ( GE) to sell technology to the health care sector and is also overhauling its manufacturing. Intel's shares were rising 0.3% to $16.03 in early trading Tuesday.