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Just because some tech giants are reporting doom and gloom in consumer sales doesn't mean that everybody is suffering. Flash memory maker SanDisk (Nasdaq: SNDK ) , for example, is doing just fine in this environment.
Third-quarter sales of $1.23 billion and GAAP earnings of $1.34 per diluted share were both strong showings, driven by heavy demand for memory-packed smartphones and the rise of diskless tablet computers. The company also reported strong cash flows and record gross margins. Six consecutive quarters of price wars and losses have now been followed by six quarters of strong, stable business, and the pro forma profit of the fat years are 2.5 times larger than the losses of the lean times.
Memory for smartphones and other mobile gadgets, sold to manufacturers on an OEM basis, made up half of SanDisk's sales this quarter with the top five customers all hailing from the mobile phone industry. CEO Eli Harari expects this trend to continue: "We believe that mobile continues to present us the greatest opportunities in the coming years. The more than 1.2 billion handsets that will be sold this year dwarf any other consumer or computing market." And they all need plenty of flash memory.
Moreover, tablet computers "came out of nowhere" to present SanDisk with tons of new revenue opportunities. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) launched the revolution with the iPad but Harari believes -- and I agree -- that an entire new industry will rise from burgeoning competition: "We think that the market does need competition and we will have competition to the iPad as good as the iPad, it is a great product and the industry would learn to use Android or other operating systems such as the Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) operating system to provide tablets with different functionality and we expect that to be a significant force in 2011 and we see great opportunity for us to participate in that."
So first the iPhone kick-started one huge market for SanDisk, then the iPad launched another with "a lot of design activity" going on. But that's not all Apple is doing for SanDisk: this week's announcement of Macbook Air systems with solid-state drives as standard equipment should ignite yet another revolution in Harari's opinion. It "should force competitors to much more seriously go in that direction," he said. Widespread adoption of SSD drives in notebooks and server systems would be great news not only for SanDisk but also for SSD specialists STEC (Nasdaq: STEC ) and SMART Modular Technologies (Nasdaq: SMOD ) , among others. SanDisk must love Apple.
After a well-deserved market pop on this report, SanDisk has returned over 85% to shareholders over the past year, but still sits 20% below annual highs at about 8 times trailing earnings. This stock is one safe way to invest in the storage-heavy tech boom that lies ahead.