When No. 1 contract manufacturer


( SLR) warned of weaker financial performance a few weeks ago, it blamed component shortages. The response from Wall Street predictably was that it was Solectron-specific.


! (Like you would expect to get a groupwide negative call from deal-hungry analysts in a rapidly consolidating industry?!)

So why, then, did

Natsteel Electronics

preannounce a lousy quarter? Natsteel? Haven't heard of it? No surprise, it's based in Singapore and its stock doesn't trade in the U.S. But it's the fifth-largest contract manufacturer and it counts


(AAPL) - Get Report

among its largest customers. What seems to be


problem? How about component shortages?

That's right, so here we have the largest and fifth-largest contract manufacturers blaming their problems on component shortages. Meanwhile, other big players in the group, presenting at a big

Salomon Smith Barney

conference in New York earlier this week, said components aren't a problem, biz is just fine and they won't miss their numbers. And who knows, maybe they're simply better procurers than the others.

Or maybe they've found ways to make their earnings look better than they really are. (Oh,


broken record again?! Well, sorry, but if it were just Solectron, it would be one thing. But then Natsteel chimed in. Now

ATI Technologies

( ATYT), as of yesterday, blamed component shortages on


problems. You've got to read


piece on


for an even more interesting spin on the situation.) But seriously, take a look at a few other companies.

SCI Systems

, for example, earned 34 cents last quarter -- meeting estimates. But 3 cents of that came from lowering its allowance for doubtful accounts to 0.8% of receivables from 1.5% the quarter before. At the same time, receivables rose $190 million, or by 29%. (Shouldn't the allowance be going up, or shouldn't it rise in tandem with revenue, especially in an environment like this? A spokesman didn't return my call.)


ACT Manufacturing

( ACTM), an up-and-comer through a series of acquisitions, got 19 cents of last year's 85 cents in earnings (excluding acquisition-related charges) from a reduction in inventory reserves, and its allowance for doubtful accounts has been steadily falling. "You could justify doing that if they were getting bigger and better customers," says one short-seller, "but that's not what's happening." The important thing about reserves is that they're up to the company's discretion.

Then there's


(FLEX) - Get Report

, which has done seven acquisitions in the past year, and is expected to write off a hefty $136 million (after tax, according to at least one analyst) as part of its $2.4 billion acquisition of

The Dii Group

. What're in those charges? Hard to say; company officials couldn't be reached. But as one hedge fund manager, who is leery of what many companies stuff into takeover charges, muses, "Maybe I should write off all my trades."

On that note, stay tuned for another installment of Herb on TheStreet later this morning.

Herb Greenberg writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, though he owns stock in TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He welcomes your feedback at

herb@thestreet.com. Greenberg also writes a monthly column for Fortune.

Mark Martinez assisted with the reporting of this column.