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Novellus Systems edges past estimates

The chip-equipment maker tops analysts' estimates even though shipments and orders drop precipitously from the prior quarter.

Novellus Systems beat analysts' estimates in its first quarter Monday, earning $91.2 million, or 62 cents a share, on sales of $458.7 million.

First Call consensus expected the semiconductor-equipment maker to earn 61 cents a share on sales of $441.5 million.

Novellus shares closed off $1.94 to $51.14 ahead of the earnings report before gaining $52.35 in after-hours trading.

Revenue rose 109 percent from a year ago, when the company reported $220 million in sales. In the year-ago quarter, Novellus earned $23.8 million, or 17 cents per share.

"Overall our operating results were good," said Chief Executive Officer Richard Hill during a conference call with analysts. "Bookings were off dramatically from the prior quarter but shipments were about what we expected."

Shipments in the first quarter fell to $413.1 million, down from $477.8 million last quarter, but they were up from $299.7 million a year ago.

Gross profit margins in the quarter slipped to 55.6 percent, down from 57.2 percent last quarter.

Looking ahead, Hill said he expects shipments in the second quarter to fall around 40 percent from the first quarter.

In the latest sign of trouble for chip-equipment makers, Samsung Electronics said it would cut its capital expenditures by $914 million this year, roughly 16 percent. Despite the news, the chipmaker reported stronger-than-expected earnings for its first quarter.

Hill told analysts to expect sales of $379 million in the second quarter and earnings of 40 cents a share, in line with current analyst estimates.

"We look forward to maintaining profitability through this economic slowdown," Hill said. "We expect to emerge from this downturn in a better position than we were in going into it."

Ahead of the earnings report, ABN AMRO analyst Nikolay Tishchenko predicted Novellus would earn only 59 cents a share on sales of $443 million.

"We don't anticipate much of a recovery for chip or chip-equipment sales until sometime in the third or fourth quarter this year," he said. "I like the company and its product mix but no one should expect much from the stock for quite a while."

Last quarter, Novellus topped analysts' estimates when it earned $104.4 million, or 76 cents a share, on sales of $425.1 million.

Novellus shares moved up to a 52-week high of $69.50 in July before falling to a low of $24.94 in November.

Seventeen of the 22 analysts tracking the stock maintain either a "buy" or "strong buy" recommendation.