Micron Starts the Spin Machine, Turns Off Common Sense

According to memory-chip giant Micron Technology (Nasdaq: MU  ) , the PC market is falling apart. Not the consumer computing market, mind you -- just traditional old desktops and laptops. CEO Steve Appleton loves smartphones and tablets are coming on strong, and the enterprise market is humming along as always. Just be prepared for truckloads of bad news on the PC market.

That's the takeaway from Micron's fourth-quarter report on Thursday night: $2.1 billion of revenue was in line with analyst expectations, but the non-GAAP net loss of $0.14 per share was not. Micron was supposed to make money.

As you might imagine, the profit-buster lurked in Micron's margins. Last quarter's 22% gross margins dropped to 15% as prices on PC-bound DRAM memory chips fell through the floor. Other chip slingers are cutting back their DRAM production, but Micron has no such market-improving plans. The way Appleton spins it, the price changes are driven by a lack of demand rather than oversupply.

Well, baloney. I say tomato, you say tomahto -- supply is outstripping demand in this sub-market any way you twist it, and that's terrible news when DRAM is your biggest division by revenue.

So in the end, shareholders in consumer-friendly PC players including Microsoft, Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) , and Western Digital (NYSE: WDC  ) should be sitting on pins and needles heading into this earnings season. As Micron puts it, pricing competition is getting more intense because of falling demand, and that sword cuts equally across every part of the PC food chain. Appleton has some power to improve the conditions in his own backyard, but he won't -- not what I want to hear as a Micron shareholder. Let's see how the same conundrum plays out in other PC-centric markets.

Micron is currently weighing on my CAPS score and real-world portfolio returns like a steel anchor around my neck. I picked a terrible time to start both positions. However, Micron is fundamentally strong and can muddle through tough markets like this one for years on end. My CAPS positions in Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) and Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD  ) have gone to early graves, at least in part because of the weak PC market, but I remain convinced that short-term issues are holding back Micron's long-term value. Above all, investors seem to assume the worst possible outcome in the ongoing patent litigation waged by Rambus (Nasdaq: RMBS  ) , and I don't agree with that projected outcome. My patience should be rewarded in 2012 and beyond.

Start your own CAPS position on Micron. You're getting a much nicer starting price than my $9.24 per share, you lucky duck.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Micron but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft and Western Digital. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Microsoft and Dell and creating a bull call spread position in Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio, follow him on Twitter or Google+, or peruse our Foolish disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On October 01, 2011, at 1:55 AM, jwtrotter wrote:

    This is one the prime examples of why I can't take Motley Fool articles seriously . . the writer has no common sense himself. After stating that Micron has 'turned off the common sense' he writes that Micron is still in a strong position for the long haul and adds that the worst outcome in litigation cases is also not to be expected. So IMO the writer has less 'common sense' than the company he is talking about . .

  • Report this Comment On October 03, 2011, at 10:38 AM, pk22901 wrote:

    " the ongoing patent litigation waged by Rambus (Nasdaq: RMBS )"

    The article you link to is about >>antitrust price fixing conspiracy<< against Micron and Hynix. The trial has gone to the jury and there is a possibility of a multi $B judgment against Micron/Hynix.

    If punitive damages are assessed above automatic tripling, the headline number could be $10B+ this week! Where does MUs PPS go if that happens?

  • Report this Comment On October 05, 2011, at 12:18 AM, keahou wrote:

    It seems that Rambus should be the key stock in this article as they have the most potential, near and long term. The infringers are losing the patent battles in the ITC cases, the Federal, and the State cases. The US Patent Office just validated a few today. The MU CEO worked out an amnesty deal with the DOJ in the Antitrust Cartel Investigation, a felony.

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