ASML fourth-quarter results beat, sees outlook upside in 2021 depending on 'geopolitics'

FILE PHOTO: ASML Holding logo is seen at company's headquarters in Eindhoven, Netherlands, Januari 23, 2019. REUTERS/Eva Plevier/File photo

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - ASML Holding NV, an essential supplier of equipment to computer chip makers, on Wednesday posted better-than-expected earnings for the fourth quarter of 2020 and hinted it could upgrade its 2021 sales outlook depending on U.S.-China politics.

Fourth quarter net profit was 1.4 billion euros ($1.70 billion) on sales of 4.3 billion euros, compared to 1.13 billion euros and 4.04 billion euros in the same period a year earlier.

Analysts polled by Refinitiv had seen fourth-quarter profit at 1.03 billion euros on sales of 3.73 billion euros.

CEO Peter Wennink said the beat came due to additional shipments of its mid-level "Deep Ultraviolet" lithography systems and upgrades to existing systems, as utilization of existing chipmaking factories reached high rates.

ASML makes lithography machines, which can cost up to 200 million euros each, and use focused beams of light to map out the circuitry of computer chips made by major customers such as Taiwan Semiconductor, Samsung and Intel.

ASML forecast 4 billion euros in sales for the first quarter of 2021 on strong bookings of 4.2 billion euros.

ASML shares have rallied to all time highs in recent weeks, closing at 439.9 euros amid news of chip shortages in some sectors, and on news that key customers plan to invest heavily in new factories in 2021 that will require new ASML equipment.

The company said in November that it expected "low double digit" sales growth in 2021.

But in a comment on earnings Wednesday, CFO Dassen said that might be too low. The company expects 10% growth in machines for logic chip manufacturers, 20% growth in machines for memory chip makers and 30% growth in service revenue, he said.

But those numbers could be upgraded he said "under the assumption that we will not be faced with more limitations on the geopolitical front and...export controls than what we're seeing today" he said.

ASML has been barred from shipping its newest and most expensive tools to Chinese semiconductor manufacturers after a campaign of pressure from the U.S. government under President Donald Trump, whose term ends today, not to ship equipment on national security grounds.

The Dutch government has so far withheld export licenses from ASML for shipping its most advanced equipment to mainland Chinese customers.

($1 = 0.8235 euros)

(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Keith Weir)

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