Dell Blames Revenue Shortfall on Europe and Small-Business Demand - TheStreet

Updated from 6:57 p.m. ET

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

started its fall analyst meeting with some bad news.

The company told attendees and investors viewing the meeting over the Internet on Wednesday afternoon that its revenue growth is currently trending about 3 percentage points below expectations. Dell said that if the current environment extended through the end of the year, fiscal 2001 sales would total $32 billion. (The year ends in January.) The company blamed weak European demand and slower-than-expected sales to small businesses around the world.

The $32 billion sales figure would put Dell's year-over-year revenue growth at 27%, short of the 30% growth to which the company has been guiding analysts.

Dell said that it didn't expect any problems making fiscal third-quarter earnings estimates, largely because of falling component costs. The price of dynamic random access memory, or DRAM, has tumbled lately as major PC manufacturers and OEMs have unloaded inventory they had stockpiled in anticipation of a year-end components shortage.

But cheap memory is going only so far. Although Vice Chairman James Vanderslice said that he expects DRAM prices to continue to decline into December, the company warned that fiscal fourth-quarter earnings-per-share could be "1 to 2 cents below company targets."

Analysts polled by

First Call/Thomson Financial

expect the company to earn 25 cents a share in the fiscal third quarter, up from the year-ago 18 cents. For the fiscal fourth quarter, Dell had been expected to earn 28 cents a share, up from the year-ago 15 cents.

Dell's warning certainly isn't close to the scale of the one

issued last Thursday by

Apple

(AAPL) - Get Report

, whose country mile-wide miss has lopped off more than 50% of that stock's value. But it confirms what has been obvious to most investors since

Intel

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warned that weak European sales would severely depress its revenue growth: PC sales are slowing.

And possibly not just over the next few months. Looking forward, the company told analysts that it expects industry sales to grow "somewhere in the midteens" next year, and its own growth rate at between 1.5 to 2 times the industry rate. Those projections may raise fears that 30% revenue growth may be a rather precarious, best-case scenario for next year.

Dell's problems will doubtless add to the growing myth of the

Oracle of Minneapolis,

U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray

analyst Ashok Kumar. Kumar had

downgraded the company in early August because he thought its 30% revenue-growth guidance was unsustainable.

The PC maker's warning also provides a notable example of the negative effect the stock market turbulence experienced this year in the Internet sector is having on infrastructure spending. The company noted that dot-com customers were the biggest single cause of the weakness in its small-business segment.

Shares of Dell, which had already fallen about 35% since early September, were getting punished in after-hours trading. The stock was lately trading at $25.77 on

Island

, down from its New York close of $28.19.