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Applied Materials

(AMAT) - Get Applied Materials, Inc. Report

topped Wall Street expectations for a fourth straight quarter on Thursday amid solid sales and orders for both its chip fabrication and solar systems equipment and improved gross margins.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based maker of semiconductor capital equipment also gave a well-above consensus outlook for the full year, saying it sees an improving market outlook for its products.

The company posted an adjusted profit of $484 million, or 36 cents a share, for the three months ended Jan. 30, up slightly from year-ago equivalent earnings of $476 million of 36 cents a share, and ahead of the average estimate of analysts polled by

Thomson Reuters

for a profit of 33 cents a share in the January-ended period on revenue of $2.6 billion.

"Applied's solid first quarter was driven by continued strength in semiconductor systems and record profitability in solar," said Mike Splinter, the company's chairman and CEO, in a statement. "We see momentum building in our end markets and expect our company's fiscal year revenue to be more than $11 billion, exceeding our previous record by over a billion dollars."

Gross margins improved to 42.3% in the latest quarter from 42.2% in the fourth quarter.

For the whole of fiscal 2011, the company forecast non-GAAP earnings of more than $1.50 a share, well above the average analysts' view of $1.29 a share.

"We now expect wafer fab equipment spending to be up 10 to 15 percent from approximately $31 billion in calendar 2010, with crystalline silicon solar equipment spending rising by more than 30 percent year over year," Splinter said.

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For its fiscal second quarter ending in April, Applied Materials sees adjusted earnings of 34 to 38 cents a share with net sales expected to be flat to up 5% on a sequential basis. Wall Street's current consensus estimate is for a profit of 31 cents a share on revenue of $2.52 billion in the period.

The stock was edging up in after-hours action, rising 7 cents to $15.90 on volume of nearly 225,000, according to

. Based on a regular session close at $15.83, the shares were up more than 25% in the past year, including a gain of 11.3% since the start of 2011.

Wall Street was split on Applied Materials ahead of the report. The breakdown of the analysts covering the shares is three at strong buy, eight at buy, 10 at hold, two at underperform and one at sell.

The median 12-month price target sits at $16, virtually flat with where the stock's been trading as it's pulled back since hitting a 52-week high of $16.67 on Feb. 7.


Written by Michael Baron in New York.

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