By Noel Randewich
SANTA CLARA, California (Reuters) - Nvidia Corp plans to return $1 billion to shareholders this fiscal year, the company said on Thursday, helping its shares trim earlier losses caused by worries about its mobile business and a slumping PC market.
Shares in the chipmaker were down as much as 4 percent after Nvidia told investors earlier at its annual analysts' day that it expects its Tegra mobile processor business to remain flat this year. They recovered after the buyback news, and were down just 0.5 percent at $12.77 in the afternoon.
Co-founder and CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said he expects Nvidia's mobile processor business to remain flat this year as the company focuses on upcoming chips with high-speed LTE technology attractive to smartphone makers.
As consumers increasingly choose tablets and smartphones over personal computers, Nvidia, with a market capitalization of about $8 billion, has been looking for ways to diversify beyond its core business of designing graphics chips for PCs.
Huang told investors his company has sacrificed some sales of its Tegra mobile chips in the near term in order to focus on integrating Long Term Evolution (LTE) features on upcoming versions, making them compatible with high-end carrier networks.
Combined with a slumping PC industry, that strategy is putting pressure on Nvidia in the first half of 2013, Huang told analysts at a conference.
"We're confident that as we go into the second half, growth will return," he said. "How do we feel about the Tegra business? … This year Tegra will be about flat."
Nvidia will return the cash to shareholders this fiscal year via previously announced dividends - about $50 million a quarter - and additional share buybacks. The $1 billion also includes $100 million in share buybacks this quarter.
Huang said his confidence in generating cash from Nvidia's new markets, including Tegra as well cloud-based graphics products for gaming, workstations and data centers, underpinned the decision.
Global PC sales plunged 14 percent in the first three months of the year, the biggest decline in two decades of keeping records, as tablets continue to gain in popularity and buyers appear to be avoiding Microsoft Corp's new Windows 8 system, according to IDC.
Nvidia made inroads in tablets last year but competition from Qualcomm has Wall Street concerned it may struggle to keep its mobile business growing.
Its lack of LTE technology has kept Nvidia out of the high-end smartphone market, dominated by Qualcomm.
Nvidia's Tegra 3 mobile processor is used in Google's Nexus 7 launched last year, one of only a handful of tablets to make inroads against Apple's iPads.
But reflecting growing competition, Google has chosen Qualcomm's Snapdragon processors instead of Nvidia's latest Tegra 4 chips to power a new version of the Nexus 7 tablet expected to launch around July, Reuters reported last week.
The Tegra 3 chip is also used in Microsoft's Surface Windows RT tablet, which has failed to capture customers' interest since its high-profile launch last October.
Analysts expect Nvidia's revenue to slip almost 1 percent for the fiscal year ending in January 2014, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
(Reporting By Noel Randewich; editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid and Andrew Hay)