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Chip-equipment leader

Applied Materials

(AMAT) - Get Applied Materials Inc. Report

should deliver results on target with Wall Street's expectations in its first report under new CEO Michael Splinter on Tuesday.

Most analysts think the company can match its target to hold revenue flat from the prior quarter, at about $1.1 billion, and post per-share earnings of 3 cents to 4 cents for the July quarter.

But the feebleness of the recovery is becoming apparent and nobody expects Applied to spring any big upside surprises for the quarter now under way. On a trip to Taiwan, Splinter himself commented that, "The signs are still weak, and our customers are very, very cautious on capital spending right now," according to a July 29



At Morgan Stanley, Steve Pelayo says the new CEO is likely to give conservative guidance for in-line results in the October quarter. He expects AMAT to forecast 10% sequential bookings growth, flattish sales and a slight improvement in EPS from the July quarter. Morgan Stanley hasn't done recent banking for the company.

Current consensus estimates call for 9.5% sequential sales growth in the October quarter, to $1.2 billion, with earnings of 6 cents.

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At U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray, analyst Stephen O'Rourke similarly expects in-line results with orders guidance of 5% to 10%. "We do not believe there is any reason for AMAT to significantly outperform expectations given the tepid guidance already heard from virtually all companies in the sector thus far," he points out. His firm hasn't done banking for AMAT.

While Banc of America's Mark FitzGerald thinks AMAT will hold sales flat for the October quarter, he expects per-share earnings of only 3 cents, below the 6-cent consensus estimate.

"Unless guidance surpasses the most optimistic forecast (low probability), we believe the stock is likely headed back to $15," he predicts. "We suspect that there is little that AMAT can report on Tuesday that can stem the current selloff." Banc of America hasn't recently done banking for AMAT.

AMAT shares closed Monday at $18.34, up 46 cents, or 2.6%.

The stock has risen 41% year to date and recently hit a 52-week high of $19.84 on July 31, though shares have since edged downward.

FitzGerald says


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earnings report on Thursday is likely to have a bigger impact on AMAT's stock price than anything AMAT itself reports. "We believe the end-market demand is still weak," he explains. "Without supporting news in the end markets, the good news in the semi-equipment sector at these valuations is a reason to sell, not to accumulate."

Morgan Stanley's Pelayo thinks downside for the broader chip-equipment group is likely limited to 10% to 15% in the near term. Later this year, he adds, investors will start to focus more on the industry's growth prospects in 2004 and may question whether relatively optimistic valuations are warranted.