ASML offers investors an early surprise

ASML Holding blows away its previous forecast for next year's orders, and the stock soars.

By Jim J. Jubak Dec 13, 2010 5:10PM
Jim JubakASML Holding (ASML) doesn’t report fourth-quarter earnings until Jan. 19, but the Dutch maker of lithography equipment for the semiconductor industry delivered an early surprise on Thursday.

The company told investors to expect bookings for the fourth quarter -- that represents future orders for 2011 -- to climb above 2 billion euros on stronger-than-expected demand. When the company announced third-quarter earnings on Oct. 13, it said only that it projected fourth-quarter bookings would exceed the 1.3 billion euros of the third quarter.

"Exceed"? I'll say. The news represents a 54% increase in projected bookings. The stock was up 7.3% on Thursday, then dropped a tad on Friday, and has edged up further Monday. 

So what’s gone so right for ASML Holding? Demand for lithography equipment from DRAM (computer memory chips) makers is down less than expected, and demand for equipment from makers of flash memory and special-purpose chips is up.

One especially interesting item in the announcement: ASML went out of its way to specifically mention that the bookings forecast did not include orders for its next-generation extreme ultraviolet lithography equipment. I think ASML has a sizeable lead in this new generation of machinery over its competitors that will persist through 2011 and beyond. 

But the new generation of machinery is just now generating orders. The company said it is producing six NXE 3100s, its second-generation extreme ultraviolet model, and has orders for nine NXE 3300 systems. Delivery of volume production NXE 3300 systems will start in 2012, the company said.

I had a price target of $41 by June 2011 on ASML Holdings in my Jubak’s Picks portfolio before this announcement. As of Dec. 13, I’m raising my target price to $43 by June 2011.

At the time of this writing, Jim Jubak didn't own shares of any companies mentioned in this post in personal portfolios. The mutual fund he manages, Jubak Global Equity Fund (JUBAX), may or may not own positions in any stock mentioned. The fund did own shares of ASML Holdings as of Nov. 30, 2010. For a full list of the stocks in the fund as of the end of the most recent quarter, see the fund's portfolio here. 

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