Dell Computer

(DELL) - Get Report

, the world's largest direct vendor of computers, warned Wednesday that it may fall short of its 30% annual growth target this year because of lower-than-expected revenues in its third quarter.

Dell officials added that fourth-quarter earnings may be a penny to 2 cents a share lower than expected. While it remains on track to meet profit expectations for the third quarter, revenue is trending about 3% below expectations. If softer sales persist in the fourth quarter, the company expects full-year revenue to be $32 billion, an increase of $7 billion, or 27%, from fiscal year 2000 sales -- but 3% lower than the company's initial target.

On average, analysts surveyed by

First Call/ Thomson Financial

are forecasting earnings of 25 cents a share for the third quarter, which ends this month, and fourth-quarter earnings of 28 cents a share. The consensus forecast among two-dozen analysts surveyed is for annual earnings per share of 94 cents for the fiscal year 2001. Those numbers are likely to be revised after Dell's two-day annual analyst meeting at its headquarters in Round Rock, Tex., concludes on Thursday.

The computer maker blamed unexpectedly weak demand for its products in Europe and sluggish growth in global sales to small-business customers during the past two months for the third-quarter revenue shortfall.

Still, Dell officials said profit margins remain firm, in part because of lower-than-expected costs for components. In addition, demand for other parts of the company's business remains strong, particularly from large corporate, education, and home-PC customers. Sales are also strong in Japan and the Asia Pacific region.

Shares of Dell fell $2.19 to a new 52-week low of $26 in after-hours trading. Earlier, Dell's stock closed down 38 cents, or 1%, at $28.19. The stock has lost about 35% of its value over the past year.

In a research note,

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Paine Webber

noted that the latest domestic retail sales trends for PCs and related products have been weak. But the firm said Dell's consumer exposure is estimated at less than 20% of profitability as they are more leveraged to the commercial PC market.

Last week,

Bear Stearns

cut its ratings on Dell and four other PC-makers after

Apple Computer

(AAPL) - Get Report

issued a fourth-quarter profit

warning because of slower-than-expected September sales, saying the firm was concerned with "the macro picture" of the sector. It downgraded Dell's rating to neutral from buy.

On the same day,

A.G. Edwards

downgraded Dell to a maintain position rating from a buy.