Micron Technology (Nasdaq: MU ) CEO Steve Appleton called a bottom for the memory market last quarter. He may have been right -- but that bottom stretched over into another quarter and hasn't turned upward yet. "More specifically, desktop and notebooks continue to be weak, and I'll just say that I don't think we really have a good feel for how that's going to play out over the next quarter or two," Appleton said on last night's earnings call.
That surprisingly persistent market weakness haunted Micron's third-quarter results and fourth-quarter outlook like a caped Bela Lugosi. GAAP earnings fell (gulp!) 92% year-over-year to $0.07 per share on 6.5% slower sales. That disjointed drop was the result of mildly lower sales and higher production costs while sorting out the wreckage of the Japanese disasters.
Operating cash flows fell from $889 million to $589 million, and huge capital investments in the quarter slashed free cash flows to $55 million -- down from $775 million a year ago.
Micron is suffering from the downward spirals happening at major customers Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) and Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) -- an unfortunate double whammy to say the least. But Micron is moving away from its reliance on the DRAM and NOR memory types going into those soft accounts, refocusing on the solidly profitable and high-demand market for NAND flash memory chips. Recalling that some of RIM's troubles come from delayed product launches, some of Micron's summer softness should translate into richer autumn shades of green.
The report was met with a heart-stopping 14% drop in Micron's share price as well as a sea of analysts cutting their target prices. Mind you, I didn't say "downgrades," as most watchers remain bullish on the stock at today's reduced buy-in prices. And that's where the fun begins.
A large part of Micron's refocusing effort relies on solid-state drive, or SSD, products that go into high-end consumer products and pricey enterprise servers. When SMART Modular Technologies (Nasdaq: SMOD ) or STEC (Nasdaq: STEC ) sells an SSD, it's probably powered by Micron chips. Semiconductor titan Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) even runs production lines and process technology research in a joint venture with Micron to secure a chip supply for its own line of ultrafast SSDs. In short, this is an industry leader.
So if nothing else, the SSD vector looks like a solid way out of Micron's current troubles. In this cyclical industry, a rebound is bound to happen eventually, and Micron really can't fall much further. Shares are selling for just about book value and 5 times trailing earnings, making even deep values like Intel look downright exorbitant.
I already have an "outperform" rating on Micron in my all-star CAPS portfolio, but now I'm tempted to take the next logical step with a real-money position. Yes, I'm impressed by the deep, deep value of this stock. If you're not ready to make these commitments yet, be sure to add Micron to your Foolish watchlist at the very least.