The downfall in Dell ( DELL) shares hit a new low Tuesday -- a 52-week low, that is. For the world's largest maker of computers to hit that dubious level is bad enough, but perhaps more disconcerting is that the stock's plummet from its 2005 high in late July has been as rapid as it has been brutal. What a difference a quarter makes; Dell shares rode a bullet train higher along with the Nasdaq from May to July on strong results in the first half of the year and high hopes about the second half. But its momentum went into reverse in mid-July, a day after Intel ( INTC), the sole supplier of semiconductors to Dell, sparked a flicker of concern that it wasn't meeting demand requirements of its customers
because its factories were at full capacity . In the subsequent week leading into its own financial report on Aug. 11, Dell shares lost almost 5%. Then, hurting its own cause, Dell slightly missed Wall Street's second-quarter sales target and offered third-quarter targets below expectations. The company cited errors in pricing its products too low as well as weakness in federal government spending. Since then, shares have dropped another 14% to $33.80. And far from abating, the selling continues, with shares dropping eight out of this month's 13 sessions. Often the darling of the tech space for its operational efficiency, Dell has suffered some chinks in its armor this year as it has pushed its business model into markets beyond the computer, such as TVs and digital music players. The law of large numbers is also hurting the Round Rock, Texas-based company, with its growth goals and margin targets coming under increasing scrutiny. "Wall Street is obviously in the frame of mind that they need to be shown that Dell can do a better job in terms of meeting revenue guidance and expectations," says Bill Gorman, vice president of equity research for PNC Advisors.
Gorman feels the stock is approaching "oversold" levels, but that it could remain in a depressed trading range until Wall Street's concerns are rectified. In addition, he sees increasing competition from Lenovo, which is becoming a
stronger global competitor since the acquisition of IBM's ( IBM) PC unit. "These concerns are legitimate in that they can't be dealt with real quickly," says Gorman, who covers technology hardware for the $50 billion money management firm. More broadly, Gorman says September is typically a poor month for stocks and this year has been no exception, even though the tech data points have thus far been "neutral to positive." This was also confirmed by Alison Regan, a market intelligence analyst for Susquehanna Financial Group, who says options trading in the big indices, like the Nasdaq 100 Trust ( QQQQ) and the S&P 500 SPDR Trust ( SPY), has turned notably bearish recently with "trading concentrated in puts." The sentiment toward both computer hardware and semiconductor stocks has been weak of late, but this isn't unexpected in the wake of uncertain second-quarter reports and a wave of midquarter updates earlier this month that didn't do much to lift investors' spirits. With the thick of earnings season nearly a month away, traders might be in for continued weakness. Dell said a couple of months ago that it can overcome the issues in its second-quarter report. The timing of such a recovery is the primary question, however, and the behavior of investors suggests that they doubt a full recovery is imminent. Until then, this stock could be stuck.