AMD's elusive path to profits

Doing the math from AMD's books, CNET News.com's Michael Kanellos calculates that by the end of next year, his lifetime net profit will probably be higher than the chipmaker's.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
4 min read
Advanced Micro Devices has been in business since 1969, has won praise for brilliant chip designs, and has made itself into a fixture in several different semiconductor markets.

Michael Kanellos, by contrast, got his first full-time job in 1987, earned kudos from his parents for agreeing to pay his own car insurance at the age of 25, and once held a summer job giving out coupons for free nickels in front of a casino.

But, by the end of the year, my lifetime net profit will probably be higher.

AMD is in the somewhat unusual position of running toward an all-time loss. From April 1970 to the end of the second quarter of 2003, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based chipmaker's cumulative net income--including the effect of acquisitions, sell-offs and charges--comes to $186.6 million, according to a tally of the net income figures culled from AMD's published financial statements and a review of documents from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

This translates to an annual average net income of $5.65 million. Put another way, the $186.4 million in net income AMD amassed in 33 years is accomplished about every 2.5 weeks at Intel.

At $186.6 million, AMD is still way ahead of me, but time is on my side. The company is expected to post a net loss of 38 cents a share, which translates to a $131.4 million loss, in the third quarter, and to follow it up with a net loss of 22 cents a share, or $76 million, in the fourth quarter, according to a consensus of analysts at First Call.

Those two successive losses will put them $20.8 million in the hole. I have spent less than I've earned to date, a fact proven by account balances. Unless a massive garage sale takes place at One AMD Place in the next five months, I pull ahead.

The break-even date for AMD comes Dec. 3.

"This is truly unusual," said Ashok Kumar, an analyst with U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray, who added that the AMD's market cap is far lower than its capital expenditures.

AMD is in the somewhat unusual position of running toward an all-time loss.
An argument can be made over some of the statistics. AMD investor relations, for instance, said that the company's net income for 1995 can be listed as $300.5 million. I am using $216.3 million. (Investor relations confirmed all of the other annual net income figures used in the calculation.) The higher figure does not include losses generated by NextGen, a company AMD acquired in January 1996.

The lower figure, however, is in many ways more accurate. AMD readjusted its 1994 and 1995 financial figures to account for the NextGen acquisition and used the "new" readjusted numbers in all of its subsequent financial literature and SEC filings. The $216.3 million figure, in other words, became the accepted amount from a corporate standpoint seven years ago.

NextGen's technology pulled AMD's processor business out of a fatal tailspin, so it's fair from a philosophical level to include its losses.

AMD lopped $20 million off its net income for 1993 in a readjustment at the same time, but I used the higher figure in the calculations.

No one can doubt AMD's scrappiness.
You could argue that I should have to deduct tuition and other expenses from my cumulative total. Those expenses, however, come nowhere near $20 million. My cumulative profit total--which exceeds the four-figure barrier, I'll have you know--does not include any household chore-related revenue from earlier periods.

While some may believe that AMD's income situation points to a chronic problem or flaw with the business plan, I see the numbers as a sign of optimism.

In the United States, no one looks down on you because you don't have money. Money, in fact, is easy to obtain in this country. My daughter received an application for a United Plus Visa application last week with an $8,000 limit. She's 2 years old, and her career skills include crayon management and singing "Jingle Bells" every day of the year.

Instead, what counts is character, a willingness to work hard, and a heavy dose of amiability. And no one can doubt AMD's scrappiness. After a decade and a half of torrid growth, the company entered a three-year disastrous slide in the mid-1980s when Japan became more aggressive in the semiconductor market. Cumulative profit went from more than $177 million in 1985 to $18.4 million by the end of 1987. Soon after, it rebounded.

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Between 1996 and 2002, AMD experienced its largest losses ever. At the same time, the company came out with a series of chips--the K6-II, the Athlon, the Opteron--that eroded Intel's dominance in the microprocessor market. The competition accelerated PC performance and price declines, several analysts said. In other words, AMD lost, but you gained. At worst, PC makers will continue to use AMD chips to keep Intel edgy.

The numbers are certainly mind-boggling, but gyrations of fate have occurred in corporate history before. The U.S. auto industry is still alive, and so is Lloyds, the hoary insurance conglomerate that has been rocked by a series of lawsuits in the past decade. Some companies have changed personalities several times. IKON Office Solutions, the office supply company, originally started as a chemical consortium in 1928.

I might be a better bet financially, but AMD likely will be here for the long haul.