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ASML warns of slow first quarter after fourth quarter net profit beats

ASML's logo is seen on the day of the presentation of the 2011 fourth quarter and annual results in Veldhoven January 18, 2012. REUTERS/Robi
ASML's logo is seen on the day of the presentation of the 2011 fourth quarter and annual results in Veldhoven January 18, 2012. REUTERS/Robi

VELDHOVEN (Reuters) - ASML, the world's leading provider of tools for making computer chips, warned of a weak first quarter but said it sees a recovery in the following months as smartphone and tablet makers shift to the next generation of chips.

The Dutch firm, which is seen as a barometer for the tech sector, reported better-than-expected net profit of 298 million euros ($396 million) on sales of 1.02 billion euros, largely thanks to a tax benefit.

Analysts in a Reuters poll had forecast profit of 185 million euros on sales of 1.029 billion euros.

It said it would continue to return money to investors through share buybacks and dividends but could not formally announce a new share buyback programme until after a meeting next month regarding its acquisition of Cymer Inc, a supplier of lithography light sources used to make chips.

"We plan net sales for 2013 at a similar level to that of 2012, with a slow first-quarter start, recovering in the second quarter and a relatively large second half," ASML said in a statement.

Driving that pick-up, ASML said customers - who include Samsung Electronics, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC) and Intel Corp - would be preparing for the next generation of chips used in smartphones and tablets.

It said it expected to get a 700 million euros boost from the sale of its new tools which are based on extreme ultraviolet, or EUV, and that the memory sector could also see a recovery later in the year.

"We expect the DRAM and NAND flash memory segments to continue investing at a minimum level in 2013, generating an upside revenue opportunity for ASML if the PC business picks up," said Eric Meurice, chief executive.

The quest to produce ever smaller, more efficient, more powerful chips pushed ASML into two important deals last year.

It agreed to buy Cymer in order to speed up the development of its new manufacturing technique which uses extreme ultraviolet light so as to produce smaller chips.

It also won funding from Intel, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, and Samsung for the research and development of EUV technology and of equipment for making larger wafers.

The production of wafers with a 450 mm diameter, compared with 300 mm now, allows more chips per wafer to be cut and will help cut costs by as much as 30-40 percent. ($1 = 0.7521 euros)

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch, writing by Gilbert Kreijger, editing by Sara Webb)

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