UPDATE 1-HTC sees Q1 revenue flat to 17 pct lower vs Q4
* HTC sees Q1 revenue T$50-60 bln, vs Q4 T$60 bln
* Analysts had forecast Q1 revenue of T$62.77 bln
* HTC sees Q1 oper margin 0.5-1.0 pct, vs 1 pct in Q4
By Clare Jim
TAIPEI, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC Corp expects revenue to be flat to 17 percent lower in the first quarter compared with the previous three months, worse than forecast, while margins are also seen holding steady or shrinking.
The former contract manufacturer's fortunes have been declining sharply since the second half of 2011, as the growing dominance of Apple Inc's iPhone and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd's Galaxy range quickly deflated the success of its own brand's rapid rise.
HTC said on Monday that it expects first-quarter revenue of T$50 billion to T$60 billion ($1.69-2.03 billion). That compares with T$60 billion in the fourth quarter and T$65.75 billion a year ago.
Analysts have forecast HTC would earn revenue of T$62.77 billion for the quarter, according to the average projection of 18 analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
HTC also said it expects a first-quarter gross margin of about 21 to 23 percent, flat to lower from 23 percent in the prior quarter, and an operating margin of 0.5 to 1.0 percent, also flat to lower from 1 percent.
The weaker-than-expected first-quarter revenue outlook follows a 91 percent year-on-year slide in the Taiwanese company's net profit in the fourth quarter that fell short of analyst forecasts.
Analysts doubt that 2013 will be a turnaround year for HTC as the strength of its brand lags far behind Apple and Samsung.
But some have said that the next version of its flagship smartphone, code-named "M7" and which they expect to be launched in the middle of this month in New York and London, could give the company a first-mover advantage of a few months on features such as higher-resolution cameras.
Samsung Electronics, the world's top smartphone maker, said last month that it expected the global smartphone market to shrink in the first quarter from the seasonally strong fourth quarter, while the overall handset market would see growth at a mid single-digit percentage rate this year from 2012, with the smartphone segment set to slow.
Strong smartphone sales powered an 89 percent increase in operating profit at the Korean company in the October-December quarter to a record $8.3 billion.
Cupertino, California-based Apple, which faces intense competition from Samsung, sparked a slide in its share price late last month when it forecast lower revenue of $41 billion to $43 billion in its current fiscal quarter, down from $54.5 billion in the previous quarter and below the average Wall Street forecast of more than $45 billion.
On Monday, shares of HTC fell 1.6 percent, versus a 0.9 percent rise in broader market. HTC's shares have fallen more than 40 percent since the start of last year, compared with a 12 percent rise in the Taiwan stock benchmark.