Who's next? Better yet, what's next? That's the question I put to many of my contacts in the hedge fund, brokerage and advisory community and the answers may surprise -- or infuriate -- depending on your perspective.
One name that came up several times was
, which has been one of the year's top tech turnarounds, with its stock currently trading near its all-time high after a nifty 6% gain today. With 25% of its sales directly tied to the PC, through modems, disk drives and monitors, the company would seem to be a natural victim of a slowdown in PC spending. TI's savior is that its so-called DSP chips are a favorite in the cellular community, and wireless sales account for the bulk of the company's biz.
So, why pick on TI? Longtime PC bear Fred Hickey of the
newsletter in Nashua, N.H., says TI can expect to get more competition from the likes of
on the cellular side, and "last quarter backlog fell," he says.
"And on their conference call, they guided people up next quarter for a sequential improvement. If they don't get it, they'll whack this thing. You have $8 billion of sales and a $30 billion market cap. That's pretty intense for a semi company that hasn't had any growth since the mid 1990s."
TI, for its part, says it's such a dramatically different company than it was prior to the recent sale of its memory chip biz that past performance is pretty much irrelevant. A spokesman further says the company continues to believe it's on track for mid-single digit sequential growth. Its hard-drive business, he added, is experiencing routine seasonal flatness, but has not seen any softness in orders.
"And we're not seeing any downturn in the wireless business," he said. As for falling backlogs, he adds, that's the result of companies switching to the Internet from traditional ordering channels.
Next (surprise, surprise -- and actually, I was surprised by how many people mentioned it):
, which doesn't report until the end of April. If you believe the skeptics, last quarter's revenue slowdown was just the warm-up act. "It has the highest probability of a seismic event," says longtime PC bear Bill Fleckenstein of
. He and several others, while admiring the company's growth, say the "Dell heads" (die-hard Dell investors) are in denial about the slowdown in the company's growth. Fleck's reasoning is largely tied to the double whammy of falling PC prices and the sharp slowdown by corporations in Y2K spending. "The quarter before was squishy," he says. "The next one they blow. It's coming." (Dell has a policy of not commenting on its stock or market speculation.) Dell's stock rose nearly 4% on Wednesday.
Some longtime tech watchers believe any risk list should also include contract manufacturers that build the PC boxes like
, as well as smaller chip companies like
Maxim Integrated Products
, all of which could come under increased pressure as PC companies look for cheaper component prices from their suppliers.
Point to remember, say the bears:
warned of a slowdown, and the most important part of its quarter -- the last week or two -- hasn't even occurred yet.
You shoulda known, you should know. Known, that is, that
recent offering of 9 million shares would be a trap for investors. The telltale sign: Five -- count 'em,
-- co-investment bankers on the cover of the prospectus. Anything over three is
too many and suggests the company was trying to lock up as many favorable "buy" recommendations as possible. The deal was done Feb. 16 at 13. Maxtor closed Wednesday at 8 7/8, down 1/4.
Why the slide? Well, it
supply the PC industry and all drive stocks have fallen in recent weeks, however Maxtor's decline is greater than the others. A Maxtor spokeswoman says the slide for all drive companies is "an overreaction." She says information has been taken out of context and "people are forgetting what are normal trends for this quarter."
To which analyst Bruce Seltzer of
in California says, "I think their numbers will be sloppier than they're suggesting."
And if they are, see the next item.
Guess who is one of the largest customers of our old friend
. Right. Maxtor, whose other big customer --
-- recently struck a deal to start buying more disks from HMT rival
. Komag sold $80 million in stock to Western Digital for 24 million guaranteed disk units a year, according to longtime HMT short-seller Marc Cohodes of
. HMT will do no more than 30 million units, none of which are guaranteed. By contrast, HMT makes about 30 million units per year, and its market value is about $300 million, plus the company has about $230 million in debt. But if you use the Komag deal as a guide, HMT's 30 million units would be worth about $100 million in sales.
Cohodes is betting that HMT's assets, at its current level of business, will not cover the company's debt. In its most recent quarter, HMT reported a loss of 28 cents a share. That's why, Cohodes believes, "When all is said and done, the bondholders will own the company and the equity holders have something that's worth significantly less than the company is trading." HMT closed Wednesday at 6 15/16.
HMT officials, in keeping with their ban on talking to this column, didn't return my call. Any professional money managers disagreeing with Cohodes are welcome to submit comments, but only if they're on the record with attribution.
Herb Greenberg writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with the editorial policy of TSC, he does not own or short individual stocks. He also does not invest in hedge funds or any other private investment partnerships. He welcomes your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. Greenberg writes a monthly column for Fortune and provides daily commentary for CNBC.