Call it profit-taking or call it cautiousness, but semiconductor investors don't seem quite ready to hold stocks beyond modest rallies. Chip stocks may have run nicely beginning in September, but they were flat in December and have started out poorly in the new year.This has set investors up for the pending earnings season, to be led off by Intel's ( INTC) fourth-quarter financial results after Tuesday's closing bell. The world's largest chipmaker also will set expectations for the current quarter and announce its full-year targets on gross margin and capital spending, among other projections. The coming weeks will be pivotal to chip investors as other companies too provide glimpses into full-year expectations. With traders always looking months ahead at expected business results when making buy/sell decisions, the initial tea leaves will be scrutinized closely. History tells us that the first half of the year is weaker than the second half for semiconductor companies. Add to that an ongoing inventory bloat and chipmakers will have some hard slogging through the first quarter and into the second quarter. Already this year, Xilinx ( XLNX) and Micrel ( MCRL) have cut financial targets; Transmeta ( TMTA) set plans to shift itself to an intellectual property company from a maker of its own chips; and National Semiconductor ( NSM) has cut 6% of its staff. And National Semi's situation seems to indicate just how quickly business conditions have soured. Its factory utilization plunged from the mid-90% range at the end of August to the mid-60% range at the end of November. The recent job cuts indicate more than just a temporary blip. These conditions will likely translate into a steady stream of dour-to-cautious predictions from companies concerning the coming months. That's not going to give investors confidence to carry stocks higher.