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California State University at Monterey Bay (CSUMB) and nearby Hartnell College in Salinas, CA teamed up to initiate one of the country’s most innovative Computer Science Cohort programs. Since 2013 the two institutions, have promoted this program as a way to attract minorities, women and students who are the first in their families to attend college to Computer Science and STEM subjects. The Cohort program nurtures these students by having them take their CS classes as a group. It also helps them adjust more quickly to college life by providing them with group study and life skills classes to help them stick with CS as a major and graduate. So far, so good. A 75% majority of students enrolled in the CSUMB/Hartnell CS Cohort program graduate. This is well above the national average of about 30%. The program is the brainchild of Sathya Narayana a CS professor at CSUMB, who constructed it with Joe Welch and Sonia Arteaga, his counterparts at Hartnell, a two-year community college in Salinas, CA. Read my article on this important initiative at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)’s Website here:

The high technology earnings reports from the major vendors over the last several weeks have been decidedly mixed. Some companies notably beat expectations while other bellwether firms’ financials exhibited significant weaknesses.

Apple, IBM and Intel earnings were all in positive territory, beating Wall Street forecasts. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Advanced Micro Devices, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems (recently acquired by Oracle) and Yahoo all posted disappointing – albeit not totally unexpected – declining numbers.

Overall, the latest financial reports provide an interesting perspective on trends in the high technology sector for the remainder of 2009 and into 2010. The consumer sector led by Apple appears robust, while PC sales and the business software sector as evidenced by the contraction and sluggishness in Microsoft’s Windows and Office are weak. That softness will likely persist for the remainder of calendar 2009.

Apple was the biggest winner by far and the brightest star in the high technology firmament.

Apple financials beat all analysts’ expectations. For the 2009 third fiscal quarter ended June 30, Apple posted quarterly revenue of $8.34 billion and net profit of $1.23 billion; that’s a 12% year-over-year earnings increase and the strongest of any June quarter in Apple’s history, the company said. Apple’s strength was evident across the majority of its product segments. iPod sales remained brisk with 10.2 million sold in the just ended quarter, although that is an approximately eight percent decline from 11 million sold during the June 2008 third quarter. Apple and Wall Street analysts attributed the decrease to cannibalization by iPhone sales. However, iPod touch unit sales grew 130% from last year.

Apple sold 2.6 million Macs – a 4% unit increase from the year-ago quarter. Apple’s gross margin was 36.3%, up from 24.8% in the year-ago quarter. Apple also exhibited extremely good diversification, with international sales contributing to 44% of third quarter revenue.

IBM also posted earnings that surpassed Wall Street forecasts and that in turn, lifted Big Blue’s 2009 full-year profit forecast. IBM net earnings increased 12% to $3.1 billion, or $2.32 per share; that easily bested financial analysts’ per-share prediction of $2.02. IBM also got a boost from its ongoing cost cutting measures which helped to lift profits. However, IBM sales declined by 13% to $23.25 billion. In a published statement IBM said it expects to save $3.5 billion in cost cutting measures for 2009; that’s $500 million more this year than it had anticipated.

Intel’s third quarter financials offered a mixed picture. The world’s number one chipmaker had sales of $8.4 billion for the quarter even as it recorded a second-quarter net loss of $398 million, or 7 cents a share, compared to the $1.6 billion and 28 cents a share that Intel earned during the same period in 2008. This was Intel’s first quarterly loss since 1986. The red ink was attributable to charges associated with the $1.45 billion fine levied by the European Commission. In May the EC ruled that Intel abused its market position to cut its chief rival, AMD out of the European market. Intel said it will appeal, but meanwhile, the fines stand.

Intel’s better than expected sales figures buoyed analysts and industry observers because it occurred in spite of sluggish PC sales. One very encouraging note for Intel’s immediate and intermediate term is that its entry level Atom chip, which is used in the burgeoning Netbook minis, is not siphoning off Celeron processor revenues. The Celeron processors are used in the more inexpensive notebooks and there was some fear that the Atom chips would cannibalize a significant amount of Celeron revenue. Meanwhile, revenue from Atom processors and chipsets rose 65 percent from the 2009 first quarter to $362 million.

At the same time, the high tech sector suffered a blow when Microsoft announced the first annual sales loss in the company’s 34-year history. The news was not unexpected, still it cast a pall since Microsoft, the world’s number one software maker is an industry barometer.

For its fiscal fourth quarter ended June 30, Microsoft profits plunged 29 percent to $3.05 billion from the same quarter in 2008. Sales similarly declined by 17 percent during the fourth quarter to $13.10 billion. Microsoft said its poor fourth quarter numbers were attributable to the continuing weakness in the PC and server markets as well as the smaller software licensing fees it collects from the Netbooks.

Most worrisome was the fact that Microsoft experienced quarterly revenue declines in all five of its major business segments. Windows client revenue waned by 29 percent during the fourth quarter; that was $1 billion less than the client software group 2008 fourth quarter sales. And it provided yet another indicator that corporations stayed put on Windows XP, instead of migrating to Vista. quarter, representing a shortfall of more than $1 billion from the year-ago quarter. For the year, Client revenue was down 13 percent. In an earnings call, Microsoft chief financial officer Christopher Liddell attributed this to the overall malaise in the PC hardware market and the “substantial weakness” in the business PC market resulting from budget cuts and delayed hardware refresh cycles. And although Microsoft had indicated it would miss its numbers, the results were weaker than Wall Street estimates of $14.37 billion in sales. For fiscal year 2009 Microsoft had revenue of $58.44 billion, a three percent decline from 2008. One bright spot: Windows unit sales on Netbook minis increased for the first time since the September 2008 quarter.

Yahoo’s financial report was mixed. On a positive note, the struggling online search and advertising firm, beat Wall Street forecasts with its net earnings of $141 million and 10 cents per share. However, most of that was due to substantial cost cutting efforts and handing out over one thousand pink slips. On the downside, Yahoo revenue was $1.57 billion a decrease of 13 percent. And with Yahoo forecasting even greater losses for the current quarter, the industry continue to clamor for Yahoo to ink that long rumored search engine deal with Microsoft. Yahoo chief executive Carol Bartz remained mum on any impending deal.

AMD’s financial woes continued. The company was in the red for the 11th straight quarter; although the company said the rate of loss was slowing. For the second fiscal quarter, AMD posted a net loss of $330 million or 49 cents per share. Revenue for the quarter was $1.18 billion.

In the wake of the bruising financials, AMD’s stock is currently trading at $3.77; its profit margin is off by over 43 percent; operating margin is down nearly 17 percent and its return on equity to shareholders is down by a whopping 415 percent.