When Micron Technology (NASDAQ:MU) reports earnings, the event tends to set the tone for semiconductor companies in the upcoming earnings season. Micron's unusual fiscal year results in financial reports in an otherwise dead lull, a couple of weeks before most companies roll out their quarterly results.
It happened again this summer. Micron crushed Wall Street's third-quarter estimates near the end of June, setting the stage for a plethora of strong reports from the semiconductor industry. The memory chip maker is a weather vane for technology stocks at large, so it's only natural that Micron generates lots of headlines.
Micron's third-quarter sales rose 13% year over year to $5.4 billion. Adjusted earnings fell 22% to $0.82 per share. Your average analyst would have settled for earnings near $0.77 per share on sales in the neighborhood of $5.3 billion. The company also set up fourth-quarter guidance targets well above the current Street view.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed Micron down. The company's manufacturing facilities operated at full capacity throughout the third quarter, except for testing and assembly functions in Malaysia at the start of the period. Micron simply shifted that workload over to other locations in its global web of production sites.
The demand picture for Micron's various types of memory chips shifted around a bit in the quarter, but weaknesses in some areas were outweighed by rising demand in other markets.
The view from the top
"Market segments driven primarily by consumer demand have seen a negative impact," CEO Sanjay Mehrotra said in the earnings call. "Calendar 2020 analyst estimates for end-unit sales of autos, smartphones, and PCs are meaningfully lower than pre-COVID-19 levels, even though estimates for enterprise laptops and Chromebooks have increased."
Mehrotra explained that skyrocketing interest in online activities such as multiplayer gaming, video streaming, and e-commerce drives heavy infrastructure investments in the data centers that make these services tick. And that's not a temporary trend that will fade out as soon as the virus goes away.
"Trends like working from home and online learning are likely to drive long-term changes in how we think about workforce flexibility and education," he said. "Emerging technologies such as drone-based deliveries and the increased use of robotics across many applications are now being pursued with urgency. Technology solutions are rapidly helping society adapt and manage the temporary and permanent changes stemming from this pandemic."
All of that is good news for diversified technology companies in general. Devices ranging from 5G smartphones and gaming consoles to self-driving cars and data center servers require more and more memory over time, and Micron is a leading provider of these chips.
Is Micron's rosy market view playing out as expected?
Micron's bullish market view has indeed played out in other chip-sector reports. Texas Instruments (NASDAQ:TXN) obliterated Wall Street's second-quarter targets last week. So did Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), though the chip giant also reported difficulties in switching over to a more advanced manufacturing system.
In general, Micron's market analysis appears to be spot on -- as usual. This company's unique position at the heart of the global technology market makes it a perfect bellwether for what's going on in the industry. Investors across the semiconductor sector should pay attention when Micron speaks.