Brace yourself for a bunch of downbeat earnings reports from the semiconductor industry, as bellwether National Semiconductor (NYSE:NSM) kicked the reporting slate off with some bad news.

The company delivered results firmly in the middle of its recently lowered guidance, with $501.6 million of sales and earnings of $0.27 per share. But management saw more dark clouds on the horizon and offered some pessimistic revenue guidance for the next quarter -- an 8%-11% sequential decrease, which would translate to a 15%-19% year-over-year sales drop.

All of that is a product of lower manufacturing volume in response to slower sales. Idling the manufacturing plants hurts gross margins, as fixed costs of running these facilities still need to be paid, which explains the gross margin slide to below 58.9% for this quarter. Management didn't point fingers at any particular customer that lowered its order volume, but earlier comments would point to cell phone makers like Motorola (NYSE:MOT), Nokia (NYSE:NOK), and Sony Ericsson (a joint venture between Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) and Sony (NYSE:SNE)).

Apple Computer (NASDAQ:AAPL) is another large customer, where various supply issues have led to a delayed release of the highly anticipated next-generation video iPod. Of course, nobody will say whether National supplies any parts for that design, but chances are good and that product could tip the scales back a bit in National's favor. Whenever that happens.

So the semiconductors are off to a bad start. This Monday, we'll get a mid-quarter update on Texas Instruments' (NYSE:TXN) quarter, and after that we're off to the races. That's when we'll know whether National's slow quarter was an anomaly or an indication of sectorwide problems.

Further Foolishness:

Why not slap a jingly cap on your scalp and join the merriment at Motley Fool CAPS ? We're figuring out the entire market together, and the more, the merrier.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure is always worth a read.