Computer chip stocks sink as 2012 outlook darkens

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) ? The stocks of several computer chip makers suffered steep declines Monday as more investors became convinced that the industry’s recent woes will linger into next year.

Micron Technology Inc. was especially hard hit: Its shares plunged to a 52-week low of $4.33 before a late tick upward. The stock closed at $4.33, down 71 cents, or more than 14 percent. The sell-off is a reaction to Micron’s dismal performance in a fiscal fourth quarter that saw the Boise, Idaho company blindside investors with a $135 million loss. The disappointment of that report, released late last week, has been compounded by speculation that a legal dispute involving alleged price fixing at Rambus Inc. may not turn out well for Micron.

Other big losers in the sector included MEMC Electronic Materials Inc. and Advance Micro Devices Inc., whose shares also hit 52-week lows during Monday’s trading. MEMC’s stock dropped 49 cents, or more than 9 percent, to close at $4.75 and while AMD shares fell 55 cents, or nearly 11 percent, to close at $4.53.

Most stocks are sinking as investors fret about Europe’s debt crisis and the increasing odds of another recession in the U.S. After ending the July-September quarter with its biggest quarterly loss since 2009, the bellwether Dow Jones industrial average fell by another 258 points, or 2.4 percent, in October’s first day of trading.

The weakening economy threatens to compound the challenges already facing chip makers trying to overcome a slowdown in sales of personal computers and other electronics relying on their technology.

The problems have prompted at least 20 chip makers to disclose their third quarters didn’t live up to management expectations, according to a Monday research note from Nomura Holdings. The report predicted estimates for chip makers’ earnings next year may fall by about 30 percent as competitive and economic pressures narrow profit margins.

The downdraft has turned Intel Corp., the world’s largest computer chip maker, into a potentially interesting opportunity for investors seeking for stocks that pay a high dividend rate. Intel’s annual dividend of 84 cents per share translates into a 4.1 percent yield after the company’s stock shed 71 cents, or more than 3 percent, to close at $20.62. The stock traded in a range of $18.77 and $23.96 in the past year.

Nomura Holdings is recommending Analog Devices Inc., which has a dividend yield of 3.2 percent. Its shares ended Monday down 18 cents, or 0.6 percent, at $31.07.