It's still the brightest light in the sector of optical components, but

JDS Uniphase

(JDSU)

has seen some of the shine come off its shares lately.

While remaining the dominant player in the business of making components for fiber-optic networks, JDS no longer stands alone -- a gaggle of small competitors popped up this year. Even more of a drag on its price is the delay in approval for the merger with fellow optical components manufacturer

SDL

(SDLI)

.

Originally set for the end of the year, a merger vote was

postponed until January. Yesterday, JDS and SDL announced the stockholders' vote would be Jan. 26 and that the deal had yet to win

Justice Department

approval under antitrust laws.

Since the Dec. 18 announcement of the delay, JDS has skidded 25.4%. It closed down again today $3.25, or 6.9%, to $44.13, far off a 52-week high of $153.42. JDS was trading at more than $100 right before

Nortel's

(NT)

announcement in late October its third-quarter revenue

would not meet Wall Street's highest expectations.

Other concerns have been compounding the nagging merger worries:

Lucent

(LU)

, a major customer, warned for the fifth time in a year. And

Thomas Weisel

and

Wachovia Securities

downgraded JDS within the past week for a variety of reasons, including the possibility of an inventory build-up, Lucent's poor showing, a weakening economy and increasing competition.

The last is certainly true. A lot of new optics component makers have entered the marketplace:

New Focus on Networks

(NUFO)

,

Avanex

(AVNX)

,

Avici

(AVCI)

and

Oplink Communications

(OPLK)

all held

IPOs this year. And they have drawn "mindshare" from those investors interested in buying into a hot sector.

Obviously, it hasn't been a great time for most tech stocks, including fellow optical component makers. But JDS' 10-day slide was worse than that of Avanex, which dropped 11.2% during the same 10 days; Oplink Communications, which fell 9.3%; and Avici, which was off 1.6%. New Focus on Networks gained 10.4% after a brutal November. All gained today except for Avanex, which dropped 1.3%. New Focus rose 14%, Oplink was up 11.5% and Avici finished the day up 8.9%.

When JDS was one of the few component makers for the fiber-optic communications industry, it was like "walking into a room with five or six people in it. You could hear what everybody had to say," said

Epoch Partners

analyst Mark Langley in a recent interview. Now, the optical component space is like the floor of the exchange, he said, "with a couple of hundred people running around and shouting for attention."

In a research note today, Langley took pains to paint JDS as the clear leader in its space, noting that JDS' increase in sales during 2001 will be greater than the combined sales of emerging optical manufacturers.

3:41 p.m.: PC Sector Woes Continue

There is no end-of-the-year break in sight for the ongoing water torture of earnings news for the PC industry, as concerns over lowered corporate technology spending work on the shares.

Prudential Securities

today lowered its earnings estimates again today for PC maker

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

and for

IBM

(IBM) - Get Report

.

Analyst Kimberly Alexy, who lowered estimates on Dell earlier this month because of weakening laptop and desktop demand, lowered them again today. The concern this time was that demand for servers has slackened over the intervening weeks.

And it's not likely to get better soon. A

Wall Street Journal

article today repeated what has become a tech mantra of recent weeks: Corporate spending for information technology will slow next year much faster than expected.

That affects Dell, which largely relies on the corporate market. Dell's stock has dropped 40.8% since Nov. 8, when it reported its third-quarter earnings. Today the stock is down 31 cents, or 1.7%, to $17.69. By contrast, IBM was up 1.1% in recent trading, though it started the day in the red.

It also affects server maker

Sun Microsystems

(SUNW) - Get Report

, one of the fastest-growing computer makers and one whose stock has been a tech high performer. Sun has seen its shares mirror the fall of other PC makers, dropping 39% since Nov. 8. In recent trading, Sun is down $1.44, or 4.7%, to $28.94.

Of course, given The Great Circle of Tech Life, what happens to PCs also affects semiconductors, the brains that run them.

No semi maker is more involved with PCs than giant

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

, which was slipping today following the PC warnings and the news that its new chip may have a bug. A note from

Salomon Smith Barney

noted that a flaw had been discovered in the support chips for the industry giant's new Pentium 4. The flaw could hurt performance in some cases, the report noted. It wasn't the first flaw in Intel's new chip: About a month ago a software glitch caused the recall of some P4 motherboards. Intel did not return calls asking for comment.

Intel was pacing the semiconductors downward in recent trading, off $1.81, or 5.6%, to $30.75. Rival Advanced Micro Devices

(AMD) - Get Report

, which competes in PCs, was down 3%.

Weakening demand for consumer electronics, and a drop in capital spending by Intel and other top chip makers, led

A.G. Edwards

to downgrade two semiconductor manufacturers today, industry leader

Applied Materials

(AMAT) - Get Report

and fellow equipment maker

Teradyne

(TER) - Get Report

.

Analyst Chris Chaney reduced the rating of both to maintain from buy, citing the slackening consumer and enterprise market.

Equipment makers tend to feel bad news earlier than chip stocks and started their slide earlier, said

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

analyst Steve Pelayo. Applied has dropped 38% in the last three months and Teradyne has lost 43.4% in the last four months.

While there is still some more bad news to come for equipment makers, long-term buyers have been cautiously picking up some of them, Pelayo said.

While Applied was down 2.2% and Teradyne was off 2.8% in recent trading, fellow equipment maker

KLA Tencor

(KLAC) - Get Report

was up 0.8% and

Lam Research

(LRCX) - Get Report

was rising 1.7%.