Tower turnaround continues

Chipmaker posts first profit in seven years.

semiconductor 88 (photo credit: )
semiconductor 88
(photo credit: )
After reporting its first quarterly profit since 2000, Tower Semiconductor believes it has sufficient deals in the pipeline to maintain growth and continue the turnaround seen at the company over the last year. "One of the very significant things of the quarter deals with the fact that we are still guiding growth for the fourth quarter when the overall foundry industry is guiding around a 10% utilization decrease," Tower CEO Russell Ellwanger told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday. "We moved from a 80 million run rate in third quarter last year to 200 million this year which is [like talking about] two different companies." "Building on the several major agreements signed and announced during the third quarter, we are optimistic about further growth throughout 2007," he added. The Migdal Ha'emek-based company reported Tuesday third-quarter net income of $39.5 million, or 46 cents a share, including a one-time gain of $80m. after Tower arranged a debt reorganization with banks. The company posted a loss of $55.4m., or 83 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue more than doubled to $51.5m. from $20.6m. last year. "Overall the company continues to grow," said Ramesh Misra, an analyst at C.E. Unterberg Towbin. "Based on the number of engagements they have been able to build and develop over the last few months, the momentum should continue." While the company expects sales of between $53m. and $57m. in the fourth-quarter, up from $31m. a year ago, Misra noted that there is generally a seasonal decline in the end of year quarter and that guidance from some of the larger foundries has reflected that. "There is a seasonal element, however, and it doesn't bode one way or the other for all of 2007," he stressed. "I don't see any reason to be concerned or particularly alarmed about 2007, I think we will have a decent year in the industry and under that circumstance Tower should definitely benefit and continue to grow revenues at a very healthy pace." Misra would not give his revised forecast for the company before releasing his report after press time. Last week, he said he expected end of year revenue to grow around 85% to $192m. He added that 2007 revenue expectations could reach $307m. for the year. Growth at the company has also translated to its work force and Tower chief financial officer Oren Shirazi said the company is looking to hire some 50 people in the coming months, adding to approximately 120 employees it recruited in the last year. The company currently employs 1,400 people. Tower, meanwhile, achieved its $50m. revenue milestone through orders from International Rectifier Corp., Panavision SVI LLC, Ikanos Communications Inc., and Atheros Communications Inc. It also said that SanDisk Corp. agreed to help finance Tower's expanded production and place additional orders over the next two years. "If we look at last year, we had two customers that we were shipping more than 1000 wafers a month to and now we are shipping that volume to around 14 companies," Ellwanger said. "So we now have the ability to work with very large customers in multiple segments and through our performance expect to grow in market share." Ellwanger also sees this week's announcement of Tower's first Chinese customer as a confidence boost for the company and a signal to focus on that market. "There are other activities we are pursuing in China that haven't necessarily materialized but it is a market that we are looking at," he said. For a company that has been plagued in the past six years by increasing debt, losses and massive job cuts, the third quarter may be the final signal that the worst is behind the company. "If you look at it in the small case, 2.5 times revenue growth sounds nice but to be at a 200 million run rate, that's a reasonable company," Ellwanger said "It shows momentum - to me that's very significant." Bloomberg contributed to this report.