Micron earnings: Investors need assurance that memory chip prices aren’t peaking

Micron Technology Inc.’s earnings and outlook later this week should shed some light on whether investors’ fears that memory chip prices are peaking are overblown.

is scheduled to report fiscal third-quarter results on Wednesday after the bell.

Shares of the Boise, Idaho-based chip maker have hobbled since they hit a record high in April followed by the company forecasting higher-than-expected quarterly revenue for the quarter. Over the past three months, Micron shares have fallen 6%, while the PHLX Semiconductor Index
has grown nearly 7%.

Micron specializes in DRAM and NAND memory chips. DRAM, or dynamic random access memory, is the type of memory commonly used in PCs and servers, while NAND chips are the flash memory chips used in smaller devices like smartphones and USB drives.

JPMorgan analyst Harlan Sur, who has an overweight rating and a $140 price target, said he believes “some investors’ fears on pricing rolling over in C4Q21 to be
overblown (we expect a mid-single-digit price increase in Micron’s Nov-Q).”

Sur said he expects May-ending quarter results “to be strong amid a better pricing environment and we expect strong sequential revenue growth in the August quarter even in a flat DRAM bit shipment environment.”

Investors likely have not forgotten 2018, when DRAM and NAND prices were skyrocketing only for them to crash after customers double- and triple-bought chips to lock in lower prices, leaving chip makers with massive inventories.

Analysts on average expect DRAM sales of $5.21 billion, up from $3.59 billion in the year-ago period, and NAND sales of $1.86 billion, up from last year’s $1.67 billion, according to FactSet.

Read: The semiconductor shortage is here to stay, but it will affect chip companies differently

What to expect

Earnings: Of the 27 analysts surveyed by FactSet, Micron on average is expected to post adjusted earnings of $1.71 a share, up from the $1.32 a share expected at the beginning of the quarter, and the 82 cents a share reported in the year-ago quarter. Micron forecast $1.55 to $1.69 a share. Estimize, a software platform that uses crowdsourcing from hedge-fund executives, brokerages, buy-side analysts and others, calls for earnings of $1.78 a share.

Revenue: Wall Street expects revenue of $7.23 billion from Micron, according to 26 analysts polled by FactSet. That’s up from the $6.48 billion forecast at the beginning of the quarter, and the $5.44 billion reported in the year-ago quarter. In late May, Micron said that it expected revenue to come in “at or above” $7.3 billion, the high end of the guidance it provided at the end of March. Estimize expects revenue of $7.33 billion.

Stock movement: Over Micron’s fiscal third quarter, the stock slipped 0.2%, compared with a 12% increase on the PHLX Semiconductor Index 
over the same period, a 12% rise by the S&P 500 index 
and a 8% gain by the Nasdaq Composite Index
 During Micron’s third quarter, shares closed at $95.59 on April 12, just short of their all-time closing high of $96.56, set on July 14, 2000.

What analysts are saying

Evercore ISI analyst C.J. Muse, who has an outperform rating and a $135 price target, said he expects DRAM supply to be lean going into 2022 with NAND improving into the second half of 2021.

“Put another way – we think its way too early to call a memory peak,” Muse said.

Cowen analyst Karl Ackerman, who has an outperform rating and a $105 price target, said that positive sentiment in the memory chip space has flipped as Android smartphone production checks have been mixed, laptop PC growth seems to have moderated, and data centers have built up more inventory.

“Sentiment across memory has turned from optimism – perhaps euphoria at times – to disenchantment on concerns that pockets of end demand moderation may end the current bull cycle,” Ackerman said.

Still, he expects Micron to beat in the August quarter while it should provide in-line results on Wednesday. Plus, he notes the company’s stock has underperformed since April, and that even though inventories appear built up they are for the most part lean.

Citi Research analyst Christopher Danley, who has a buy rating and a $135 target price, also sees “pushouts” from the PC and smartphone supply chains that account for about half of Micron’s revenue.

“We expect this to result in flat DRAM prices during 4Q21 but DRAM pricing to increase in C22 due to low supply growth,” Danley said. “As a result, we expect less upside to MU estimates during 4Q21 then for growth to resume in 2022.” 

Of the 31 analysts who cover Micron, 25 have buy or overweight ratings and six have hold ratings, with an average price target of $120.14, according to FactSet data.