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Agilent profits up in fourth quarter

Published: Monday, November 19, 2012 at 4:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 19, 2012 at 6:32 p.m.

Agilent Technologies, the largest high-tech employer in Sonoma County, warned investors Monday that growth would be muted next year despite a big jump in fourth-quarter profits.

“We are very, very pleased with the progress we've made today,” CEO Bill Sullivan told analysts in a conference call on Monday. “We believe that with the political uncertainty in Europe and the U.S., we're going to see a pretty flat growth rate. It's a muddle forward.”

Agilent shares fell 1.4 percent to $37 in after-hours trading.

The company reported $425 million in profits in the fourth quarter, up 47 percent from a year ago. Orders were flat compared to a year ago, at $1.75 billion. Sales reached $1.77 billion, up 2 percent from a year ago.

Agilent expects annual revenue of $7 billion to $7.2 billion in 2013, up from $6.86 billion this year.

The company, headquartered in Santa Clara, has 20,500 employees worldwide, including about 1,150 workers in Santa Rosa, primarily in its electronic measurement division.

The Santa Rosa-based division — Agilent's largest business unit — saw fourth-revenues revenues decline to $816 million, down 5 percent from a year ago. Operating margins, a measure of how well a company controls its costs, were 23 percent.

“The overall contribution in Santa Rosa from our R&D teams has been as innovative and productive as we have been in the past, so very strong,” said Guy Séné, president of Agilent's Electronic Measurement Group. “Despite, I would say, the difficult business environment, there's an ongoing stream of new products that comes out of Santa Rosa.”

In the last quarter, the team introduced one of the fastest signal generators on the market, a PXI modular product used by the communications and telecommunications industries to test devices, Séné said. The team also released more than a dozen FieldFox hand-held devices that analyze microwaves and other signals in harsh conditions.

Séné said hiring, already significantly reduced, would remain slow in the coming year. The company will continue to recruit employees at college campuses and hire new employees as others retire, keeping the headcount flat for the next year, he said.

Agilent also has been spending less on travel, and plans to reduce spending on equipment and material.

“It's really a more cautious spending profile, and making sure what we're spending is really necessary,” Séné said. “We never know what will happen. If the fiscal cliff or some of these big looming issues happen, we will probably have to think this through again.”

In the conference call, analysts asked company executives why they weren't considering more cost-cutting strategies, when many publicly-traded companies are planning ways to control costs in 2013.

“To back away from any investment in research and development is not the prudent thing to do,” Sullivan said. “We need to not only be well-positioned today, we need to be well-positioned for the future.”

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