Micron

----------

he sound of technology stock bubbles bursting has become all too familiar in rec ent months. Snap went the Internet stocks early last year. Crack went the shares of personal computer makers in the autumn. Pop went the big networking stocks t his winter. All that makes it triply amazing that Micron Technology, one of the market's mos t ethereal stocks, remains at celestial heights. Back on earth, Micron Technology is a commodity producer of semiconductors and m emory products that run personal computers and other gadgets. Last Thursday, Mic ron announced woeful results for its second quarter, which ended March 1. But all seems right in the heavens, for despite its crummy numbers, an overall d epression in the PC business and deep uncertainty among other technology executi ves about future demand for their products, Micron's shares are 17 percent highe r than they were at the beginning of the year. How bad were Micron's numbers? Sales in its second quarter were $1.06 billion, d own 42 percent from just three months earlier. The company's gross margins casca ded from 49 percent in its first quarter to 18 percent in its second. Continuing operations at Micron generated a $4 million loss in the latest quarter, versus $359 million earned in the previous one. Investors weren't thrilled with these results, even though a handful of Wall Str eet analysts remain inexplicably high on Micron shares. The stock fell 11.6 perc ent on Friday, closing at $41.53. At that price, the company's market capitalization exceeds $24 billion. Its shar es trade at a stunning 5.6 times sales, if you extrapolate out from its second-q uarter results. Investors have made Micron the third-most-valuable semiconductor stock in the Un ited States, behind Texas Instruments and Intel. Yet Intel is down 12.5 percent this year and Texas Instruments has lost 35 percent of its value. Fred Hickey, editor of the High Tech Strategist in Nashua, N.H., says Micron is more cult than stock, because traders like its volatility. "It's the best barome ter we have of the love affair still going on among investors in technology stoc ks," he said. Many dot-coms are dead, he added, "but Micron is there, standing t all at $24 billion on the hope that some day the DRAM market will pick up." Mr. Hickey, who has followed technology stocks for more than 20 years, pointed o ut that in previous periods when Micron's operations were losing money, or barel y making any, its stock traded at much lower valuations. In 1998, Micron lost money and its shares traded at roughly 1.3 times its sales. And in 1992, when the company broke even, the stock traded at a price equal to its sales. Mr. Hickey thinks that Micron and other semiconductor stocks have remained high even as shares of their customers have plummeted because the performance of chip makers' operations lags behind that of PC makers, Internet service providers an d networking concerns. "Semiconductors are the last great bubble area of technol ogy," Mr. Hickey said. "Because earnings have held up better there, investors st ay in the stocks, even though that is where the collapse will be the greatest."

It produces an additional 70 million parts a month. given inventory levels. At Micron. A rough estimate is that Micron could suppl y about 25 percent of the world's annual PC needs with the chips it has on hand.1 billion in the most recent quarter. That seems unlikely. up from $690 million last August.Investors may also be bullish on semiconductor stocks because they expect memory prices to rise. . But its stubbornly loyal inve stors are making sure that it remains one hell of a stock. Micron may not have much of a business these days. invento ries stood at $1. Using the company's average selling price.1 billion represents. investors can guess how many chips that $1.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful