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November 29, 1995

INTEL LOAN TO TOP FIVE CUSTOMER – PACKARD BELL?

By CBR Staff Writer

Shares in electronics companies across Asia trembled early yesterday morning as word went around that Packard Bell Electronics Inc was suffering cash-flow problems. Intel Corp disclosed to the Securities & Exchange Commission that one of its five biggest customers was unable to meet bills of an estimated $470m from Intel and that Intel had agreed to convert the debt, or part of it, into a secured loan. The customer was not identified, but every finger pointed at Packard Bell, and that company did not deny it, simply refusing to make any comment. If the embarrassed party is Packard Bell, Compagnie des Machines Bull SA will also be a little embarrassed because its Zenith Data Systems arm took a 19.9% stake in Packard Bell to seal an alliance to get the latter into notebooks; and in the summer NEC Corp paid $170m for 19.9% of Packard Bell, and Bull exercised its pre-emption rights so the company raised some $200m all told, money seen at the time as bolstering an overstretched balance sheet (CI No 2,700). Packard Bell, which sells primarily into the home computer market, is believed to have made a bad gamble on the 75MHz Pentium being the hot chip this Christmas, when as it turns out, the fun-and-games end of the market is clamouring for 100MHz Pentiums needed to show off the latest three-dimensional games at their best. That means that Packard Bell is going to have to let the 75MHz machines out at $200 to $300 less than they cost to make, further compounding its problems. Shares in Taiwanese modem maker GVC Corp, monitor suppliers Lite-On Technology Inc and Tatung Co, and Singapore-based sound board maker Aztech Systems Ltd all fell, as did those of Intel, off $3 at $60. Some analysts worried that Intel was setting a precedent that would be siezed upon by any other customer temporarily short of cash. This could be huge, Kimball Brown, an analyst at Dataquest Inc told Reuter. They’d do it if they were convinced they’d lose a large portion if Packard Bell stepped into Chapter 11, he said. Earlier this month, Cirrus Logic Inc warned that revenue growth in its current quarter would be lower than it had expected because of a reduction in orders from a major customer, which many observers identified as Packard Bell.

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