AMSTERDAM (dpa-AFX) - ASML Holding NV (ASML) reported Wednesday a 30 percent drop in fourth-quarter earnings, as the semiconductor equipment giant sold 40 percent lower systems. Results also reflected lower margin, despite increased selling prices. Looking ahead, the company sees sequentially flat sales for the first quarter. The Dutch company also announced a 15 percent rise in annual dividend and additional share repurchase. The Veldhoven-based firm's fourth-quarter net income, in U.S. GAAP, fell to 284.7 million euros (about $363.53 million) from last year's 406.8 million euros. Earnings per share were 0.68 euros, lower than 0.93 euros generated a year ago. On an IFRS basis, quarterly net income declined to 317 million euros from 362.2 million euros a year earlier. Total net sales were 1.21 billion euros, lower than prior year's 1.52 billion euros. In the quarter, net system sales plunged 24.4 percent, while service and field option sales increased 4.7 percent from last year. Sales of systems totaled 41 units with an average selling price of 24.2 million euros, 40 percent lower than 69 units last year with an average selling price of 19 million euros. Of the total sales, 35 units were new systems and 6 were used systems. Value of booked systems, excluding Extreme Ultraviolet or EUV systems, plunged to 710 million euros with 37 units from prior year's 2.32 billion euros with 117 units. In the quarter, gross profit margin declined to 41 percent from last year's 45 percent. For fiscal year 2011, ASML's net income climbed 44.1 percent to 1.47 billion euros or 3.42 euros per share as net sales grew 25.3 percent to 5.65 billion euros. Eric Meurice, President and Chief Executive Officer, said, 'We achieved 2011 record sales and profit in line with guidance initially issued a year ago, confirming the robustness of the fundamentals of the lithography business and the value of our systems.' Further, ASML said it intends to increase the annual dividend by 15 percent to 0.46 per share, and to increase the size of the current share buyback program to 1.13 billion euros for 2012. In January last year, the company announced a 1-billion-euro share repurchase program, of which it has bought back 25.7 million shares for a total amount of 700 million euros as of December 31. The company also intends to purchase up to 2.2 million of additional shares during 2012 for employee stock and stock option plans. Looking ahead for the first quarter 2012, ASML said it expects net sales of about 1.2 billion euros and gross margin of about 43 percent. The company said the first-quarter bookings would be at a level above fourth-quarter bookings, and it expects first-half net sales of about 2.4 billion euros. Meurice added, 'We expect a healthy start for 2012... Our customers are indeed continuing their introductions of advanced chip designs with the need to build critical mass capacity for those nodes.' In Amsterdam, ASML shares settled on Tuesday at 33.67 euros, up 0.32 euros or 0.95 percent. In the U.S., ASML shares closed Tuesday's trading at $42.59, up $1.31 or 3.17 percent.
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