"Thoughts tending to ambition, they do plot
-- From Shakespeare's "King Richard II," Act V, Scene V (1595)
Computer-memory specialist Micron Technology (NYSE: MU ) has been working unlikely wonders for a while now.
The memory sector was deeply mired in a merciless price war for years, reducing Micron and its rivals to sell memory chips for less than the cost of manufacturing them. Thanks to a congealing industry and renewed demand for more memory, that war ended rather abruptly last year, and Micron has been crushing analyst estimates ever since.
That trend continues this week, as Micron's second quarter resulted in $0.39 of earnings per share on about $2 billion in revenue. That's up from a $0.99 loss per share on $1 billion of sales a year ago. It's not just a drawn-out trend; things are looking sharply better compared to last quarter, too. DRAM system memory sales jumped by 24% quarter over quarter on higher unit shipments and higher selling prices, while sales of memory of the Flash variety trended down a bit. Altogether, rising unit prices and ever more efficient manufacturing added up to a 35% product gross margin, up from 27% last quarter.
Macro trends are working in Micron's favor now. Impressive results from enterprise-computing giants such as Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO ) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) are pointing to a healthy market for computer systems and their memory chips. Mark Adams, Micron's VP for worldwide sales, points out that big-memory computers are all the rage: "Pick up a Sunday paper and you look at the inserts; it's a lot more 4's and 8's [gigs of RAM per system] than they used to be."
Micron's stock has soared on the shifting winds, nearly tripling from 52-week lows of $3.78 per share set about a year ago. There's still a way to go before Micron eclipses the prewar highs in the $17 range. If mobile-gadget designers such as Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) keep sucking up more Flash chips for their smartphones and tablet computers, then Micron could perhaps scale those lofty heights again. And the company's DRAM sales trends look like good news for system builders such as Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) and Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) .
Unlikely wonders lead the way to unlikely stock returns. Keep on shocking us, Micron.