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Broadcom, other U.S. chipmakers, leave investors wanting more

By Noel Randewich

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A host of U.S. chipmakers gave quarterly revenue forecasts that disappointed Wall Street and hurt their shares on Tuesday, including Broadcom Corp, which said it would lay off over a thousand workers as it struggles with slow demand for its cellphone chips.

Broadcom, programmable chipmaker Altera Corp and radio frequency chipmaker RF Micro Devices Inc joined Intel Corp and Texas Instruments Inc on a growing list of semiconductor companies that have unveiled underwhelming quarterly forecasts over the past week.

Broadcom's stock dropped about 8 percent in extended trade, while Altera's shares were down nearly 6 percent and RF Micro was down 5 percent.

"You're seeing it across the whole semiconductor ecosystem. We haven't had a good revenue number outside of memory (chips)," said RBC analyst Doug Freedman, referring to memory chipmaker maker Micron Technology Inc, which posted fiscal fourth-quarter revenue above expectations this month.

While the world economy remains soft, buyers see little reason to put in new orders to build up inventories of chips for use in cars, industrial equipment, laptops and smartphones, Freedman said.

Altera expects flat sales of its chips for wireless, military, auto and industrial customers in the current quarter, executives said on a conference call with analysts.

STMicroelectronics NV, Europe's largest maker of semiconductors, said that in the September quarter it saw soft demand for chips used in high-end smartphones in Asia and it predicted little or no revenue growth in the December quarter.

RF Micro also forecast current-quarter revenue below market expectations, saying it expects revenue from its wireless infrastructure business, including Wi-Fi connectivity, to decline.

Struggling with soft demand for its connectivity chips, Broadcom said that during the third quarter it started a restructuring plan to reduce expenses, including cutting its workforce by up to 1,150 employees. Broadcom employs around 12,050 people.

Worries about Broadcom's slow progress launching 4G chips for faster wireless communication as well as concerns about growing competition selling connectivity chips used in smartphones have hurt that company's stock, which has fallen 19 percent in 2013.

Related to its cost-saving plan, Broadcom recorded a $12 million restructuring cost in the third quarter and will record another for $20 million in the current quarter.

A number of analysts on Broadcom's quarterly conference call expressed concerns about its lack of progress launching baseband chips with LTE, or Long Term Evolution, a technology allowing fast data transfer rates in smartphones that has become widely adopted in the United States.

"You'll see the deployment of our LTE solutions which we've been working on for a long time here and really trying to make that come to pass," Chief Executive Officer Scott McGregor told analysts. He said LTE would be available in early 2014.

Broadcom said it is also experiencing soft demand for its connectivity chips, used in mobile devices to handle Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS.

Like larger Intel, Broadcom has faced setbacks launching chips featuring multimode, carrier-validated LTE, a technology dominated almost completely by Qualcomm Inc.

Broadcom sells lower-end 3G baseband chips but many smartphone makers are moving up to 4G and competition is increasing.

"The competitive pricing environment on 3G is fairly ferocious," McGregor said. "People are pricing aggressively to win share there."

Last month, Broadcom said it was buying Japanese chipmaker Renesas Electronics' LTE-related assets for $164 million to speed up its launch of next-generation Long Term Evolution communications technology.

Some of Broadcom's announced layoffs relate to that acquisition.

On Monday, Texas Instruments' unexpectedly low fourth-quarter revenue called into question the strength of a recent recovery in chips for automobiles and industrial machines.

Intel, struggling with falling PC sales, last week forecast revenue for the December quarter that disappointed investors looking for more strength from the top chipmaker's newest processors.

Broadcom said revenue in the fourth quarter would dip to $1.975 billion, plus or minus 3 percent. Analysts, on average have forecast fourth-quarter revenue of $2.135 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The Irvine, California-based chipmaker posted third-quarter revenue of $2.146 billion, compared with $2.085 billion in the year-ago quarter. Analysts, on average, expected third-quarter revenue of $2.128 billion.

Third-quarter net profit rose to $316 million, or 55 cents a share, versus $220 million, or 38 cents last year. Non-GAAP earnings per share were 76 cents, compared with analysts' estimates for 69 cents a share.

(Additional reporting by Aurindom Mukherjee and Neha Alawadhi; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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