Cree unveiling next-generation LED bulb soon

Cree, which makes the top-selling LED light bulbs, soon will be unveiling a next-generation version that will be cheaper and produce even better light.

Chuck Swoboda, CEO of the Durham-based company, announced the company’s plans Tuesday during a conference call with analysts.

“It’s about (having) a better product that expands adoption” of LED bulbs, Swoboda said. LED bulbs are more expensive than traditional bulbs but last much longer and use less energy.

Swoboda was deliberately parsimonious with the details of the upgraded version.

“We believe it will be an even better lighting experience for our customers,” he said. “We think it will look even more like a (traditional) light bulb, which we know they like. And we think we will be able to offer them at a price that (gives) more people the ability to buy it.”

Cree’s LED bulbs currently are sold exclusively by Home Depot in stores nationwide and also online. But in a brief interview late Tuesday, Swoboda declined to discuss where the new-generation bulbs will be sold.

Cree launched its first LED bulbs at Home Depot in March 2013 at what were breakthrough prices for that time. In March, the company cut the prices of its bulbs by as much as 23 percent.

Swoboda declined to discuss when the new bulbs will go on sale. But he said their impact on margins would begin to be felt in the current fiscal quarter that ends in December, which indicates they’ll be available soon. Swoboda also said Cree is developing a “next-generation LED technology platform” that “more than doubles the lumens per LED.” Lumens are a measurement of a light’s brightness.

“We’re going to take the high-power LED category and redefine it,” Swoboda said. “That’s why we think it’s a really big deal.”

Cree also announced its fiscal first quarter results Tuesday. Its revenue for the quarter that ended Sept. 28 rose 9 percent, in line with the scaled-back expectations it set earlier this month when it cautioned Wall Street that demand for LEDs was lower than anticipated.

Revenue for the quarter that ended Sept. 28 totaled $427.7 million, up from $391 million a year ago. The Durham-based company initially projected that revenue would come in between $440 million and $465 million, but subsequently revised that downward to approximately $428 million.

Earnings per share declined 64 percent to $11.1 million, or 9 cents per share. The company once projected earnings per share would range between 25 cents to 30 cents, but on Oct. 2, it said it would fall short of that target – without setting a new target.