In a stock market version of water torture, chip stocks have suffered a painful, drawn-out selloff over the past six months. The latest earnings season only accelerated the declines, with analysts seizing on reports of inventory buildups while they proclaim the semiconductor industry has hit a cyclical peak.

Plenty of tech poobahs say that's reason to exit the sector with due speed, with a minority arguing that chip sales can keep growing in line with the broader economy.

While the debate winds on, the uncomfortable reality is that no one sees a fundamental catalyst to end the selling until early August -- although a technically driven oversold bounce is possible, even overdue.

"One of the problems right now is that this is seasonally a very slow period for chip companies," said Banc of America's Sumit Dhanda. Back-to-school business "is not going to pick up until early-to-mid August and then people will start to get a conviction as to whether it's positive or negative. My guess is it's a little negative."

Though investors may be tempted by compressed price-to-earnings multiples, Dhanda argues that forward P/Es aren't especially trustworthy because he thinks analysts may reduce their estimates in the fall. Such an outcome would mean stocks are more expensive than they may seem on a relative basis.

"If you really want to own these stocks -- and I acknowledge there's been a lot of carnage -- you have to get some comfort with the relative stability in estimates. The problem is we don't have that now," he said.

Reflecting that gloomy view, the benchmark Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index has been mired below its simple 200-day moving average since April, save for a few short-lived rallies. On Thursday, the SOX closed at 411.19, up 2.9% for the day and 5.4% since its intraday low of 390.10 on Wednesday. But the index is down 19% since Dec. 31 and nearly 27% below its 52-week high in January.