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Dell anticipates lower revenue

The company meets first-quarter expectations and tells analysts to expect second-quarter earnings of 15 cents to 17 cents per share, excluding restructuring charges.

Dell Computer met first-quarter earnings expectations Thursday and told analysts to lower their second-quarter targets slightly.

"Customers are telling us they are cautiously optimistic, but are waiting for signs of a pickup in their end-user demand before committing to information technology projects," Chief Financial Officer James Schneider said during a conference call with analysts.

The computer maker reported first-quarter net income of $462 million, or 17 cents per share, in line with the consensus analyst forecast. Dell executives expect second-quarter earnings of 15 cents to 17 cents per share, excluding restructuring charges. First Call consensus was predicting a second-quarter profit of 18 cents per share.

Analysts also were looking for revenue to stay about the same from the first quarter to the second quarter, but Dell now expects second-quarter revenue to fall 3 percent to 5 percent sequentially.

Dell shares traded at $24.81 in after-hours activity on the Island ECN immediately after the release of the company's quarterly results. Dell rose 50 cents to $25.88 in Thursday's regular trading ahead of the news.

Revenue in the first quarter increased 10 percent year over year to $8 billion. Analyst consensus predicted revenue of $8.03 billion, according to earnings tracking firm First Call.

Thursday's results were no surprise. Last month, Dell said it would meet analyst estimates.

Many analysts have been worried about falling profits in the PC sector, but Dell executives said they will keep cutting prices if needed to increase the company's slice of the computer hardware market. Dell started a price war several months ago in an aggressive bid to boost its market share.

"The industry doesn't have a pricing problem--it has an operating expense problem," CEO Michael Dell told analysts. "Unless our competitors find a way to cut more than 40 percent of their operating expenses, they will continue to have problems. Our competitors are not able to compete with our value proposition in the market, and we're winning customers faster than at any other time in our history."

Dell's first-quarter gross margin remained about the same as the previous quarter at 18 percent of revenue. Operating margins increased to 7.3 percent, from 6.8 percent in the fourth quarter. Operating expenses slid to 10.7 percent, compared with 11.2 percent in the fourth quarter.

The company credited its margin sustenance to lower component costs and higher sales of notebook computers and corporate products such as servers. The company's ongoing job cuts also boost profits, said Brooks Gray, analyst with Technology Business Research.

"They appear to be on track for making the right adjustments for aligning their operating costs with declining revenue growth," Gray said. "When it comes right down to it, Dell has been a master of supply-chain efficiency and process refinement."

Dell plans to record a one-time second-quarter charge of $250 million to $350 million to pay for 4,000 job cuts, a move that was announced earlier this month.

Some analysts believe that rivals such as Compaq Computer will challenge Dell on PC prices, but Dell executives said they haven't seen a broad change in rivals' pricing strategies since the first quarter ended.

"The environment's been pretty stable, and we're not looking for it to get irrational," Dell said. "At some point in time you have to wonder how low the pricing will go, because we're not driving it any lower than where we are now."