Dell to report fiscal Q1 earnings on Tuesday

Results could be another indicator of softness in PC market

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Computer maker Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) is set to deliver fiscal 2012 first-quarter earnings after the bell Tuesday, giving analysts and industry observers some sense of where PC shipments -- challenged in the past year by the rise of tablet computers -- are headed.

Dell is coming off a great quarterly report in February. The company rode strong enterprise sales in its fiscal 2011 fourth quarter to a near-tripling of its profit to $927 million, or 48 cents a share, up 178 percent more than the year-ago's profit of $334 million, or 17 cents a share. Revenue in fiscal Q4 was $15.7 billion.

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However, the company said in its fiscal fourth-quarter 2011 report in February that it expects "normal seasonal declines in its consumer and public businesses and, as such, a slight sequential decline in revenue" in the first quarter of fiscal year 2012.

That's been the case for the past two first quarters. After generating revenue of $13.43 billion in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2009, Dell had sales of $12.34 billion in the first quarter of fiscal 2010. The $14.9 billion in revenue during Q4 of fiscal 2010 was followed by $14.88 billion in sales in Q1 2011.

The wild card in the mix is the meteoric rise of tablet computers, which are eating into computer sales. Dell really didn't have to compete against tablets during last year's fiscal first quarter, with Apple having just released the iPad in April 2010.

Now there are numerous tablets manufactured by several manufacturers, and the iPad is on its second iteration. Many tech-industry analysts, including Gartner, have lowered their forecasts for PC shipments this year as tablets continue to sell and consumers deal with tighter budgets.

Consensus forecasts call for Dell to turn in Q1 earnings of 43 cents a share on revenue of $15.4 billion.

For the full fiscal year, Dell forecasts revenue growth of 5 percent to 9 percent and non-GAAP operating income growth of 6 percent to 12 percent.

Shares of Dell were down 31 cents, or 1.9 percent, to 16.06 in late trading Monday. Through Friday's market close, Dell stock was up 20.8 percent for the year.

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