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Hard drive maker Seagate Technology (Nasdaq: STX ) knows how to make lemonade. The flooding of crucial manufacturing assets in Thailand last year forced the company and its rivals to rethink and rebuild their factories. A short-term drop in unit sales goosed street prices, thanks to the immutable laws of supply and demand, and Seagate is coming out of that disaster stronger than it was before.
We'll see signs of this opportunistic improvement on Tuesday, when Seagate reports third-quarter results.
Analysts expect Seagate to show earnings of $2.11 per share on $4.4 billion in sales. That's up from just $0.25 per share and $2.7 billion, respectively, in the year-ago period. Last quarter, Seagate shocked the Street with a 22% earnings surprise and strong sales. Shares jumped 24% overnight on the news. In short, the Thai disaster is hardly hurting Seagate's bottom line.
These conditions will stick around throughout 2012. In an interview with Forbes, CEO Steve Luczo explained that his system-building customers responded to the shortage of hard drives by ordering more low-end products in order to meet demand in their high-volume markets.
So inventories are drained up and down the supply chain, and there will still be an unmet demand of about 100 exabytes (or 150 million drives) at the end of 2012. To put that shortfall into perspective, Seagate planned to ship 60 million drives in the third quarter. Even with all the factories running at full speed again, the low supply will persist well into 2013, and so should the elevated unit prices.
Luczo doesn't see flash-based solid-state drives threatening his traditional disk technology anytime soon -- or anytime at all. "Flash is a complementary technology, it's not a competitive technology," he told Forbes. Even ultralight notebooks and tablets that ship with SSD storage still need to feed off a big and cheap magnetic disc somewhere: "If they have that machine, they have some other machine somewhere that's got 5 terabytes on it, because I can't do much with 128 gigs."
That's why he's more concerned with competition from traditional rival Western Digital (NYSE: WDC ) than SSD specialists OCZ Technology (Nasdaq: OCZ ) and STEC (Nasdaq: STEC ) . Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) might choose a STEC or OCZ drive for an ultralight notebook product or specialized high-speed server system, but will then turn around and order up Seagate or Western Digital drives for the larger storage systems around that boutique item. In the data center, we're talking about a storage array; at home, it's either an external drive or a desktop system that can handle your hundreds of gigabytes of always-growing data.
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