Call me Ishmael.

The pride of Boise, Idaho, is set to report fourth-quarter and full-year 2008 earnings on Wednesday night. No, silly, not the entire potato industry -- I'm talking about computer-memory expert Micron Technology (NYSE:MU). The company's core markets are stormy enough to turn Captain Ahab a whiter shade of pale. Is there a safe harbor anywhere in sight?

What Fools say:
Here's how Micron's CAPS rating stacks up against some of its peers and competitors:

 

Market Cap (Billions)

Trailing P/E Ratio

CAPS Rating (out of 5)

Intel (NASDAQ:INTC)

$101.3

15.0

****

SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK)

$4.34

31.5

****

Micron

$3.17

N/A

***

Qimonda AG (NYSE:QI)

$0.34

N/A

*

Spansion (NASDAQ:SPSN)

$0.24

N/A

**

Data taken from Motley Fool CAPS and Yahoo! Finance on Sept. 30.

The bulls among us like to point out that Micron's stock is really, really cheap at the moment. The company "is severely undervalued compared to its book value of $8.55," said All-Star CAPS player Vet67to82 before the stock fell another 7%. Cashsage rebuts that argument with an "illiquid balance sheet" and big losses.

What management does:
Profitable memory makers are few and far between, and Micron ain't one of them. You know you're in trouble when 19% of your revenue goes to covering operating costs but the gross margin is only 3%. Ouch. And the cash-flow data is not suitable reading for small children or the elderly. It's enough to drive a nervous man distracted.

Margins

3/07

5/07

8/07

11/07

2/08

5/08

Gross

25.7%

21.9%

19.0%

11.3%

4.3%

3.1%

Operating

2.9%

(1.6%)

(5.1%)

(11.1%)

(16.5%)

(16.9%)

Net

3.8%

(1.7%)

(5.6%)

(12.2%)

(25.3%)

(24.6%)

FCF/Revenue

(29.4%)

(40.9%)

(46.9%)

(43.7%)

(34.7%)

(28.2%)

Growth (YOY)

3/07

5/07

8/07

11/07

2/08

5/08

Revenue

15.2%

9.1%

7.9%

4.7%

(0.3%)

3.6%

All data courtesy of Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Data reflects trailing-12-month performance for the quarters ended in the named months.

One Fool says:
Both the bulls and the bears in our CAPS community have solid points. On the upside, Micron really does look cheap today after a 75% fall in share prices over the past two years. But that cheapness is tempered by ugly financial data, like a net loss of more than $1 billion this year and around $2.2 billion in long-term debt versus only about $1.5 billion in cash.

But all is not lost, and I think Micron will be around for many years to come -- without a government bailout plan. For one, I see the memory market consolidating rapidly in the near future. Micron will benefit immensely from a more stable product-pricing environment guided by just a couple of strong players. For another, Micron could actually pull out a positive free cash flow if it wanted to, because these guys actually generate cash on the operating level. It would be an extreme last-ditch measure, because Micron would have to stop upgrading its manufacturing plants and fall behind its rivals in many expensive ways, but it could be done.

That said, Micron is still a boggy, soggy, squitchy picture truly, and it takes a brave investor indeed to call a bottom to its woes today. Wednesday's report won't change any of that, and you're better off waiting for acquisition news from the likes of Micron, Toshiba, and Samsung.

Intel is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Or just sign up for a free CAPS account to find our more about your fellow Fools who were quoted above. They might have more to tell you!

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 the Punxsutawney Phil of financial forecasting.