Micron semiconductor sales top estimates

SAN FRANCISCO — Micron Technology Inc., the largest U.S. maker of memory chips, reported fiscal second-quarter sales Thursday that beat analysts’ estimates as limited increases in supply bolstered prices amid lackluster computer and phone demand.

Net profit in the period that ended Feb. 27 was $731 million, or 61 cents a share, compared with a loss of $286 million, or 28 cents, a year earlier, the Boise, Idaho, company said Thursday. Sales almost doubled to $4.11 billion. That compares with an average analyst projection for a profit of 59 cents on revenue of $3.99 billion, according to estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Micron, which has been seeking to consolidate the industry and make it less susceptible to supply gluts, acquired Japanese memory company Elpida Memory Inc. last year. While investors have fueled a rally that has more than doubled Micron’s shares in the past year, more evidence is needed on the company’s ability to remain profitable in periods of weak demand, according to Betsy Van Hees, an analyst at Wedbush Securities in San Francisco.

“Contract pricing is starting to come down,” said Van Hees. “It needs to come down in a fair and orderly fashion where average selling price declines will not outpace cost declines. That will be the true test of whether the vicious cycle has been broken.”

The shares of Micron, which more than tripled in 2013, rose as much as 4.8 percent in extended trading. The stock declined 1.4 percent to $24 at the close in New York. Micron was the best performer in the Philadelphia Semiconductor Index in 2013.

Micron is the largest remaining U.S. manufacturer of dynamic random access memory chips, or DRAM, semiconductors that provide the main memory in personal computers. That market has been hit by the first consecutive annual decline in its history as consumers increasingly turn to smartphones and tablets to get online.

The Elpida purchase brought Micron a bigger chunk of the DRAM market to help it gain scale and provide more of a return for its technology investments. It also added production of a type of DRAM used in smartphones, which require less power- hungry chips. Removing Elpida’s independence also limits the number of companies building new plants, and curtails most of the industry’s output to just three companies: Samsung Electronics Co., SK Hynix Inc. and Micron.

The U.S. chipmaker also makes Nand flash memory chips, semiconductors that are used for data storage in mobile devices. Those chips are also increasingly making their way into computers in the form of solid-state drives, or SSD, which are replacing hard disks made of spinning magnetic disks.

SSDs need cheaper component prices before they become more widely used, said Wedbush Morgan’s Van Hees.

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