DuPont Photomasks expects break-even second quarter

DuPont Photomasks Inc., which makes plates used for printing circuit patterns on microchips, said it expects a break-even fiscal second quarter amid a resurgence in demand, surpassing forecasts of a net loss.

The company, whose stock jumped on the news, said its results were lifted by surprisingly strong demand from a few important customers and cost cuts from a recent business restructuring.Makers of equipment used to make microchips have struggled amid the worst downturn in the industry's history.

DuPont Photomasks, based in Round Rock, Texas, said it expects to report revenues of about $86 million in its second quarter ended Dec. 31. In October it forecast revenues of $70 million to $80 million, and a loss of 10 cents to 40 cents a share.

For the current quarter, however, DuPont Photomasks said it expects a drop in revenues to a range of $77 million to $87 million. Analysts forecast a slight dip in sales of chip-making equipment in 2002.

DuPont Photomask's stock jumped $4.27, or almost 9 percent, to $51.95 shortly after midday on Nasdaq.

"I think what it provides evidence of is that the migration to next-generation designs is very much on track, and that the chip companies are continuing to introduce new designs despite the downturn," Irani said.

Photomasks are quartz or glass plates a little larger than a compact disc jewel case that serve as templates for the intricate circuit patterns found on microchips.

The photomask business is expected to be a prime benefactor of the transition by makers of computer chips and memory to denser circuitry.

Analysts estimate that less than 5 percent of current chip production uses the latest technology, which produces chips with features spaced only 130 nanometers apart. This is more than 25 percent closer than the commonly used distance of 180 nanometers.

A nanometer is one-millionth of a millimeter.

Sales of chip-making equipment tumbled more than 35 percent in 2001 following a boom in sales the year before. Analysts expect another decline, albeit much smaller, in 2002 sales.

But investors have already indicated that they expect last year's slump for the entire semiconductor industry to end soon.

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