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Applied Materials, Inc. (AMAT - Analyst Report) is scheduled to announce its fiscal third-quarter 2012 results today after the bell. We see some downward movement in analyst estimates in the build-up to the release.

Prior-Quarter Synopsis

Applied’s second quarter 2012 pro forma earnings were above the Zacks Consensus Estimate due to higher revenue and lower-than-expected operating expenses.

Revenue for the quarter was up sequentially, driven by strength in the silicon business. The Display business also rebounded, with revenues coming in much higher than management’s expectations. However, revenue growth was weak in the Energy and Environmental Systems (EES) segment due to excess capacity at customers.

Orders in the quarter were up 37.7% sequentially as orders improved across all segments. Gross margins also improved sequentially to 42.1%, mainly on account of the richer mix of SSG.

Detailed earnings results can be viewed in the blog titled  Few Surprises in Applied’s Q2

Third Quarter Guidance

Applied now projects third quarter revenue to be down 0-10% sequentially, with Silicon Systems Group (SSG) decreasing 5-10% sequentially and Applied Global Services (AGS) increasing 0-10%. Display and EES segment revenues are expected to be in the range of flat to +/-20%. Non-GAAP EPS is expected to come in at 21–29 cents a share.

The Zacks Consensus Estimate for the third quarter is currently 22 cents, at the lower end of the company’s guided range and down 4 cents since the second quarter earnings announcement. The downward revision was due to the company’s announcement at Semicon West that third-quarter revenue would decline by at least 10%.

Agreement of Analysts

Out of the 15 analysts providing estimates for the third quarter, none made any revision in the last 30 days. For fiscal 2012, 4 out of 18 analysts made downward revisions over the same 30-day time period.

The majority of analysts now expect revenue to decline 10% sequentially, with the SSG segment revenues declining 15%. However, the SSG segment is expected to rebound once there is an improvement in the broader demand environment.

They also expect non-semi (solar, display) segments to remain weak due to overcapacity in the market and subsidy cutbacks. As a result, they believe that the current bookings momentum is unsustainable in the second half of 2012.

Magnitude of Estimate Revisions

In the past 30 days, there was no change in the Zacks Consensus Estimate for the third quarter, but the estimate for fiscal 2012 was down 4 cents.

Over the 90-day period, the Zacks Consensus Estimate decreased 4 cents to 22 cents for the third quarter and by 14 cents to 80 cents for fiscal 2012.

Our Recommendation

We do not expect strong third quarter results, consistent with management’s commentary at Semicon West that sales will decline sequentially by 10% or more. Though we believe that there is potential in the solar energy market over the long term, we remain cautious about the company's efforts since management has already missed several targets to bring its solar division to profitability.

Nevertheless, we remain positive on Applied’s strong position in the semiconductor market, the solar business in China, a vast portfolio and strategic relationships.

Competition from large equipment makers, such as KLA-Tencor (KLAC - Analyst Report) and Lam Research Corp. (LRCX - Snapshot Report) are as strong as ever. We believe that Applied’s shares are unlikely to see much appreciation this year and retain a Zacks #5 Rank on the shares, which translates to a short-term Strong Sell rating.

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