This column was originally published on RealMoney on Oct. 25 at 1:34 p.m. EDT. It's being republished as a bonus for TheStreet.com readers.Micron Technology ( MU) seems to be at the bottom of most investors' lists when it comes to ways of playing strong demand for memory. However, Micron's strong September fiscal fourth-quarter earnings report and a potential deal with Intel ( INTC) could move Micron to the front of the pack in the coming quarters. Let's start with the Intel angle. According to American Technology Research analyst Doug Freedman, Intel has been exhibiting its Robson "Instant On" technology recently. A computer with "Instant On" technology will boot up almost instantaneously using less power, which makes it attractive for use in laptops and other mobile devices. In the past, Robson was based on a form of flash called NOR, which is common in cell phones. But more recently, Intel has been showcasing a NAND-based version of Robson, and the first version of "Instant On" could show up on the market with Microsoft's ( MSFT) Vista Office operating system. This decision to move toward NAND flash is potentially significant for Micron as it is one of two companies with an inside track to win Intel's NAND flash business. Intel manufactures NOR flash, not NAND flash. So rather than building new processes, Intel will likely opt to buy existing fabs from an outside vendor like Micron. The cost savings and power improvements provided from NAND make this economical for Intel. Micron and Toshiba are the two companies most likely to partner with Intel because both companies have favorable patent situations that would limit Intel's royalty exposure. (Royalties trigger according to fairly opaque patent rules.) And Intel has about $750 million, or 8%, equity interest in Micron via two investment funds Intel runs. Therefore, Intel has an interest in doing business with Micron, so I give it a slight edge over Toshiba in the handicapping.
Opportunity Based in Current RealityBut even without an Intel deal, Micron's business has been booming and is supportive of a higher share price. In its fourth-quarter earnings report on Sept. 29, Micron reported revenue of $1.19 billion and EPS of 7 cents. This marked a stark improvement from Micron's 20-cent loss in its fiscal third quarter, and revenue was up an impressive 19% on a sequential basis. In addition, strong demand for its memory products pushed gross margin up to 22.4% while the Street had been modeling for a sub-20% margin.
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