INTC). As the world's largest semiconductor chip maker, analysts typically keep a close watch on this firm's performance in hopes of gaining insight not only into the state of the semiconductor industry, but the broader tech sector as well. Intel saw success in the first three quarters of 2010, marked in November by a comfortable dividend hike and a bold statement from CEO Paul Otellini, saying the firm was on track to see its "best year ever." The report on Thursday will provide investors with insights into how the final three months of the year shaped up. As investors aim towards 2011, Intel looks to remain strong and promising as a leader in the industry. However, the company still faces challenges on the horizon. One major hurdle threatening the firm's potential in the new year will likely be growing pressure from leading competitors. Intel has long been the dominant player in the PC industry. However, at the recent Consumer Electronics Show, Steve Ballmer of Microsoft ( MSFT) announced that the next version of Windows will support ARM Holdings ( ARM) chips. Growing demand for tablet computers also weighs on the firm. Although the company has taken steps, Intel has seen a noticeable delay in entering this region of the market. A report from Zacks highlights analysts' concerns associated with the fact that the company is not expected to step into this industry until the latter half of 2011. Given the hurdles facing Intel, taking a broader approach to this industry may prove to be a more lucrative option for the coming year. The iShares PHLX SOX Semiconductor Sector Index Fund ( SOXX) is a large and appropriately liquid option for investors looking for exposure to the semiconductor industry. The fund is ideal for fans of Intel as the firm represents 7% of its index. Aside from Intel, however, SOXX's underlying components include a bevy of firms which are considered to be household names in the chip-making industry.
Names found among the fund's top ten components include Applied Materials ( AMAT), Texas Instruments ( TXN), Broadcom ( BRCM), Nvidia ( NVDA), and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing ( TSM). In the closing half of 2010 and the start of 2011, SOXX has seen a staggering ascension, leading the fund to recapture levels seen prior to the market's downturn in late 2008. The fund's steady rise has led the fund to move up in both our long- and short-term momentum rankings. The semiconductor industry could hold promise in the coming year as technology becomes increasingly engrained into our daily lives. As an industry leader, Intel's earnings report will be interesting to watch. However, focusing solely on the firm may not be the best way to approach semiconductors the new year. Given rising competition pressure from across the industry, more gains can be made by targeting this sector as whole through SOXX. Written by Don Dion in Williamstown, Mass.
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