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Qualcomm earnings come out ahead

The company posts fourth-quarter earnings slightly ahead of forecasts but decides to shelve plans to take its chip business public.

Qualcomm posted fourth-quarter earnings slightly ahead of expectations, but has also decided to shelve, for now, any plans to take its chip business public.

The developer of mobile-phone technology reported revenues of $684 million in the first quarter, compared with $635 million from the fourth quarter. The figure is down 10 percent from the same period in the previous year.

Earnings per share was 29 cents, ahead of the 25 cents per share in the fourth quarter. A consensus of analysts surveyed by First Call expected earnings to be 28 cents per share.

Qualcomm said it is on track for annual earnings per share of $1.27, down about 2 cents from its own projections.

Most analysts participating in an earnings call led by Qualcomm Chairman Irwin M. Jacobs were upbeat about the company's quarter.

Jacobs said the company's technology licensing and semiconductor business enjoyed brisk growth, contributing to the earnings win.

Jacobs said Qualcomm added another 10 companies to its stable of phone makers that are licensed to use Qualcomm's CDMA chips. There are now more than 95 companies using Qualcomm's CDMA technology.

The company also reported it had shipped 15 million of its modem-enabled integrated circuits, an increase of 4 million from the fourth quarter. Qualcomm had expected to ship 14 million modem-enabled integrated circuits in the first quarter.

Qualcomm expects to follow up in the second quarter by shipping another 16 million integrated circuits, a number that would be higher if not for expected "capacity limitations at one of its suppliers," which should be fixed by the third quarter, according to the company.

It's also still holding with a forecast of 90 million CDMA phones sold in 2001. That's bucking a trend reported by its other major companies.

Industry leader Nokia, the cell phone maker, already warned of a sales slowdown. Analysts at Wit Soundview had reduced its own forecast from 96 million handsets sold in 2001 to 88 million. Others have warned that Qualcomm's forecasts are overly optimistic.

But there was some bad news. Jacobs noted in a statement that Globalstar, Qualcomm's satellite phone venture, has suspended payment of its debt to Qualcomm, skipping out on a $22 million payment due last week.

Globalstar's trouble may have cost Qualcomm an additional 2 cents per share in revenues, the company estimates.

The company also announced that Qualcomm Spinco, its semiconductor business, won't be going public in the near future. Qualcomm had expected an initial public offering this year.

"Given current uncertainties in the financial markets, the company is evaluating the need for and timing of an IPO," according to a statement accompanying the earnings report.

The numbers were slightly better all around from the fourth quarter's results, when revenue dropped to $635 million, down 11 percent from the same time in 1999.

The company blamed the revenue drop on the government of South Korea eliminating phone subsidies, which forced a cut back in handset shipments. Qualcomm does a large portion of its business in South Korea.