Intel: Doubts abound on Wall Street over Gelsinger’s resolve to fix what ails the company

Even if Gelsinger can fix Intel’s manufacturing problems, many believe the company will continue to trail Taiwan Semiconductor in the company’s overall ability.

The reviews are coming in this morning, and most Wall Street observers who follow Intel are still deeply skeptical that anything can be done to fix the company, even if most are well aware of the impressive credentials of incoming CEO Pat Gelsinger. 

A former 30-year veteran of Intel who led design of the 486 chip, Gelsinger in his remarks last night, following Intel's Q4 report, said his review of six months' worth of data on Intel's manufacturing progress encouraged him that the company can go the distance producing chips mostly in-house despite a series of delays that have put Intel behind Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing. 

"Great companies are able to come back from periods of difficulty and challenge, and they come back stronger, better, and more capable than ever," said Gelsinger. "And that, I believe, is the opportunity at Intel. And I'm confident that this company has its best days in front of it, and I am looking forward to the opportunity to be part of that."

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Very few stock analysts following the company are enthusiastic.  

One of the few is Pierre Ferragu of New Street Research. Ferragu said in a deck of slides this morning that Intel is "turning a first corner with the 10-nanometer" parts such as Ice Lake. 

"10nm was the most painful node to ramp ever, but it is now delivering margin expansion with costs normalizing," said Ferragu. "We are cautiously optimistic."

Others seem willing to give Gelsinger the benefit of the doubt. Lou Miscioscia with Daiwa Capital Markets said: "With a new CEO coming on board, and it appears confidence enough in the plan to keep the next process node in house, it does seem the company is stabilizing, and possibly turning a corner towards more stability."

Christopher Rolland of Susquehanna Financial said: "Restoring Intel to manufacturing leadership would be Gelsinger's ultimate contribution as CEO... but is it possible?"

"Today our best guess leans towards no, but we will spend the next six months aggressively seeking evidence and scuttlebutt to the contrary," added Rolland.

Rolland advised Gelsinger to "fail or succeed quickly."

Aaron Rakers said that "investors are left to continue to question how quickly Intel can change the competitive narrative it is faced with (AMD, NVIDIA, Arm, etc.)."

Several analysts are more emphatic in their concerns. Many still believe Intel is a "burning platform," like an oil rig on fire at sea, with the terrible alternatives of jumping into icy waters or going up in flames. 

"Nothing in last night's earnings call changes our opinion on Intel, the company's challenges, or the many years it will take to fix them," said Hans Mosesmann of Rosenblatt Securities. 

Gelsinger, he concludes, "intends to continue Bob Swan's strategy, but with more cowbell, if you will."

"We have believed Intel will need more disruptive change in architectural roadmaps and being less adamant on an IDM-centric model (a true Intel-ite we expect to be reflexively IDM-centric) would have been effective in terms of flexibility and a management narrative for the Street."

Similarly, Chris Caso of Raymond James sees Gelsinger's decision to "double down" on 7-nanometer production as still leaving Intel behind. 

"The problem with that strategy is that, even if Intel does successfully execute on 7nm they are still a node behind TSMC," he said. "And we don't think INTC can deliver leadership products without leadership in transistors because it has never been done before."

"That keeps INTC behind the industry for 4 more years."

Matt Bryson of Wedbush said: "We view the transition to Mr. Gelsinger as a positive move for INTC, but think his comments only supported our view that a recovery will be an elongated process during which Intel will continue to be hindered by past execution difficulties."

Intel shares today are down 8% at $57.46.