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Appeared on: Wednesday, January 30, 2002
VIA profits beat forecasts, eyes new markets

Taiwan microchip designer VIA Technologies posted fourth quarter results that beat analyst expectations on Wednesday and unveiled a project designed to lead the company into milk and honey through diversification, including CD and DVD-ROM drives!

VIA posted fourth quarter profits of T$1.15 per share, down from T$1.50 in the same period last year but above market estimates around T$1.07. That brought last year's earnings to T$5.59 per share, declining from T$6.91 in 2000 but still a hard-won profit during the semiconductor industry's worst-ever sales slump in 2001. Earnings were announced after close of trade on Wednesday. VIA shares surged T$8.00, or 6.02 percent, to T$141.00, beating a 0.57 percent fall in the benchmark TAIEX index.

VIA chief executive officer Chen Wen-chi told an analyst conference he expected revenues to increase more than 20 percent per year in the ``next few years'', accelerating from a 10.5 percent rise in 2001 to T$34.11 billion (US$975.1 million).

He also promised a transformed company that would rely less on its main product of chipsets for personal computers, and push growth in new areas like microprocessors for non-PC electronics and chips for CD-ROM and DVD drives.

PROMISED LAND

Chen, a devout Christian who often gives projects biblical names, said under the company's ``Canaan'' plan it would reorganise into six business units revolving around products: chipsets, graphics chips, networking, peripherals, optical disc drives and processors embedded inside non-PC gadgets.

``VIA is pushing out the Canaan project because it wants to be a platform company, and not just a chipset compaMy,'' Chen said.

``In the future, maybe every television will need an embedded processor, and every television will need a DVD drive. This is a very big opportunity,'' he said.

He said that while chipsets, which connect a computer's microprocessor brain to the rest of the system, currently account for 80 percent of total revenues, the company aimed to cut that to 50 percent or less by 2003.

Analysts have applauded VIA's move into chips for CD-ROM and DVD drives in particular, and VIA's Chen threw down the gauntlet to the world's top maker of such semiconductors, Taiwan's Mediatek Inc , aiming to be number one by next year.

On Tuesday, Salomon Smith Barney analyst Andrew Lu upgraded VIA's 2002 EPS forecast by 11 percent to T$5.70, after downgrading Mediatek to ``outperform'' from ``buy'', citing competition from VIA, which quietly started mass production of optical drive chips in November.

``We estimate VIA will grab eight percent of the global CD-ROM IC (integrated circuit, or microchip market) in 2002 and and 19 percent in 2003,'' Lu said.

A move out of chipsets will also help to steer the company out of Intel's legal crosshairs, as the U.S. semiconductor giant has repeatedly slapped VIA with lawsuits for making chipsets supporting its Pentium 4 processor without a licensing agreement.

``It has been a very difficult legal battle against an opponent that has its own microprocessors,'' VIA CEO Chen said.


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