SAN FRANCISCO -- Worldwide chip sales grew 5.5% in August to $22.7 billion, as demand for PCs and cell phones continued to hold up, offsetting falling prices for memory chips.

But the numbers represent the calm before the storm, as the financial crisis gripping Wall Street went into high gear in mid-September, leading to the collapse of several major financial institutions and leaving consumer demand for the various electronic goods that use chips in question.

On Wednesday, memory chip maker Micron ( MU) reported a wider-than-expected loss and executives delivered a sobering outlook for the coming holiday sales season. Instead of industrywide PC growth of about 10% in the fourth quarter, Micron is now expecting PC sales to be flat to up a few percentage points.

Intel ( INTC), Texas Instruments ( TXN) and most of the major chipmakers are due to report quarterly earnings later this month, giving investors a clearer view of how demand is holding up amid the financial crisis.

The Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Sector Index , an index of 18 large semiconductor stocks is off 42% from its 52-week high, and slid a further 3.6% in midday trading Thursday -- its lowest level since early 2003.

"With consumer purchases now driving more than half of semiconductor sales, consumer confidence is essential to the entire supply chain of the global technology sector," SIA President George Scalise said in a statement Thursday. "Thus it is essential for Congress to move swiftly to restore stability to the U.S. financial system."

According to the Semiconductor Industry Association, which released the monthly tally Thursday, global semiconductor sales are up 4.5% so far this year, compared to the same period one year ago, and remain on track to achieve 4.3% growth in 2008.

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