Dell walks the walk in Q4 - wants more

"We have years and years of runway out there."

"We have years and years of runway out there."

Dell on Thursday matched analysts' expectations for earnings in its fourth fiscal quarter. The PC-maker turned in a profit of $603m, or 23 cents per share, on revenue of $9.7bn for the quarter, which ended on 31 January. Dell attributed the performance to higher unit shipments of products such as servers, storage devices and PCs. Analysts had expected Dell to post a profit of 23 cents per share on revenue of $9.7bn for the quarter, according to a poll conducted by First Call. The quarterly performance tops a high-flying year for Dell, during which it boosted shipments by 20 per cent, while the worldwide PC market saw only a small, 1.5 per cent increase, according to market research firm IDC. In addition, Dell raised its overall unit shipments by 25 per cent year over year, with the highlights being a 28 per cent increase in server shipments and an 87 per cent increase in storage products, the company said in a statement. For all of fiscal year 2003, Dell recorded a profit of $ 2.1bn, or 80 cents per share, including charges, on revenue of $35.4bn, matching analysts' expectations. But while Dell successfully grew revenue and market share during the fiscal year just ended, the question that will nag the company is this: Can it repeat that performance? For the first quarter of the new fiscal year, the company said in a statement it expects to post a profit of 23 cents per share on revenue of $9.5bn. Those figures represent double-digit increases from the same quarter a year earlier but a slight sequential dip in revenue. Despite the economic uncertainty brought on by war prospects and the resulting difficulty to predict sales, Dell executives are bullish about the company's prospects for the current quarter, given its ability to gain market share. Typically, worldwide unit shipments in the first quarter decline by about 10 per cent from the prior fourth quarter. But Dell expects its first quarter tally will decline by only 2 to 3 per cent, CFO Jim Schneider said in a conference call. Worldwide PC sales will reach about 140 million units this year, CEO Michael Dell said during the conference call. That means "there's a lot of people buying a lot of things", he said. "With 15 or 16 per cent market share, we see wonderful opportunities for us to grow our business." Paul Bell, Dell president EMEA, told silicon.com: "We've gained in every region and across every product category." Though the company didn't break out figures for its services businesses, Bell said it is growing at twice the rate of the company's combined hardware business. When asked if it is inevitable growth will slow as markets it targets mature, Dell's Bell added: "That could be so many years off, it's almost academic. In PCs and servers, for example, we only have 16 per cent of the market. We have years and years of runway out there." The PC maker plans to continue cutting costs internally and with its suppliers, which will help it to reduce prices and bolster its margins. The company uses price-setting as one of its primary tools in winning customers and gaining market share. Research firm IDC predicts unit shipments will increase by about 8 per cent, to 147.5 million, in 2003. Though that gives Dell a larger potential market, the company is likely to face stiffer competition for it. HP, for one, promises to give it more of a run by for its money by matching its prices. While economic and war-related uncertainties mar the short-term outlook for the PC market, analysts remain upbeat about Dell's prospects. As for new products, Dell said its Axim handheld device had "sold quite well". The PDA exceeded expectations but the company declined to say by how much. In January Dell told silicon.com it could have won as much as 10 per cent of the market. The company will also launch a new printer line "fairly shortly", Dell said. The PC maker said in September that it will release Dell-branded printers in the early part of this year. Tony Hallett contributed to this report.