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Intel Shows Strength at the Margin

The chipmaker raises revenue guidance and says gross margins will be at the high end of range.

Updated from 5:06 p.m. EST

The good news is that


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delivered upbeat midquarter guidance, boosting the top end of its sales outlook for the fourth quarter and saying margins were trending toward the top end of its expected range. The (somewhat) bad news is, everybody was already expecting it, and most of Wall Street agreed the stock had already priced in a positive outlook.

"It was a little better than the Street was thinking," says First Albany's Gus Richard. "It was well-telegraphed that Intel was tracking well in the quarter. But I was thinking Intel would narrow their guidance to up 3% to 6%; instead they narrowed it to up 5% to 8%."

"It's probably a modest positive tomorrow for chips. I think it bodes poorly for the market if it goes down" on the news on Friday, he adds.

Immediately after the news investors bid the stock up 54 cents, or 2.9%, to $19.50, reversing some of the ground it lost earlier in the day. Shares of Intel closed down 78 cents, or 4%.

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After the bell, Intel said its revenues will rise by a range of just under 5% to nearly 8% from last quarter, to between $6.8 billion and $7 billion. Intel's primary microprocessor business is besting its earlier expectations, primarily because of higher sales in Asia, the company said. :

On the conference call, CFO Any Bryant said the relatively strong Asian showing was due to "a combination of both local consumption and product exported back into mature markets. He said that the U.S. and Europe were tracking "about as expected."

Some analysts thought Intel might also get a boost from improving flash sales, but the company said its communications lines are both performing in line with expectations. "We expected a relatively healthy fourth quarter and what we're seeing is that is materializing," said Bryant.

Overall, he said, "I don't think we're seeing anything unusual, it's just that everything is a little stronger than we thought it would be."

As a bonus, Intel also said its gross margins are likely to come in at the high end of the 49% -- plus or minus a couple points -- which it predicted in October. Although most analysts were expecting a lift on the revenues side, it wasn't clear whether the chipmaker would hoist margins.

Intel also said it expects to post a net loss of $90 million on equity investments, greater than the $50 million it had previously laid out. It chalked up the difference to higher impairment charges on equity holdings.

Two months ago, Intel had forecast fourth-quarter revenues would come in within a range of flat to up 6%. Leading up to its midquarter update, most analysts split the difference, with the average estimate for $6.7 billion, reflecting a sales increase of 3.6%.

Note, though, that even in the wake of revised guidance, Intel's sequential growth still remains well below historical levels. Over the past decade, Intel's sales gains in the fourth quarter have averaged 12%, says Banc of America's Doug Lee.

Wall Street consensus for the fourth quarter is earnings per share of 13 cents, according to Thomson Financial/First Call.