9 Key Metrics From Micron Technology's First Quarter

By Timothy Green Markets Fool.com

Memory chip manufacturer Micron Technology (NASDAQ: MU) ended its streak of revenue declines during its fiscal first quarter, reporting solid growth and optimistic guidance. Micron is selling more chips at higher prices with lower costs, a trifecta of positives that are driving its bottom line higher. Here are nine key metrics from Micron's earnings report that give investors a good idea of where the company stands.

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Image source: Micron Technology.

18.5%: After six consecutive quarters of reporting year-over-year revenue declines, Micron has finally turned things around. Revenue surged 18.5% in the first quarter compared to the prior-year period, with strong demand and recovering prices for memory chips driving Micron's results. Revenue of $3.97 billion was slightly above analyst estimates and in line with the company's boosted guidance.

18%: Volume was the main reason Micron was able to grow revenue during the first quarter. The company moved 18% more bits of DRAM during the first quarter than it did during the fourth quarter and 26% more NAND. This growth was spread across all of its major segments.

10%: The other factor behind Micron's solid results was the spread between average per-bit sales price and per-bit costs. During periods when memory prices are tumbling, like much of the past year, Micron can struggle to knock down costs at the same rate. This leads to deteriorating profitability. During periods when prices are stable of rising, Micron's profitability can soar.

DRAM average per-bit sales price jumped 5% for Micron during the first quarter, and DRAM per-bit costs dropped 5%. That spread of 10% helped Micron grow its gross margin compared to the fourth quarter. NAND prices were flat, but Micron managed to reduce per-bit costs by 8%. With Micron's guidance predicting major gross margin and earnings growth during the second quarter, these spreads may widen going forward.

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13.9%: The PC business finally turned the corner for Micron during the first quarter. The compute and networking segment, which includes products that go into PCs, servers, and game consoles, produced revenue of $1.47 billion, up 17.6% sequentially. Non-GAAP operating income increased by a factor of 20 to $204 million, good for an operating margin of 13.9%.

Micron pointed to strong demand in general, with cloud computing and graphics producing solid growth. The launch of new GPUs earlier this year, as well as the continued success of the major game consoles, helped drive results.

GDDR5X graphics memory. Image source: Micron Technology.

Mid-20s%: Both DRAM and NAND chips are commodities, a fact that subjects Micron to vicious cycles. Oversupply can quickly turn record results into losses, and undersupply can do the opposite. This is especially true for the standardized chips that go into PCs and mobile devices.

Specialty chips may represent a path to Micron shedding its image as a commodity producer. During the first quarter, specialty DRAM aimed at networking, graphics, automotive, and other embedded applications accounted for a mid-20s% of total DRAM revenue. Around 20% of NAND sold went to embedded applications, including automotive and industrial.

Micron is still heavily dependent on the PC and smartphone markets, and that won't change anytime soon. But specialty products are becoming increasingly important for Micron.

8.6%: Micron's mobile business picked up during the first quarter, although profitability wasn't quite as high as the compute and networking segment. Mobile revenue surged 53.5% compared to the fourth quarter, with Micron pointing to customer qualifications as the main driver. Strong sales of LPDRAM and mobile NAND were also highlighted.

The segment produced non-GAAP operating income of $89 million, a swing of $124 million from the fourth quarter. Micron's 20nm ramp, as well as reduced high-cost early production inventory, drove the segment operating margin to 8.6%.

15%-20%: Micron expects DRAM industry supply to grow between 15% and 20% in 2017, assuming suppliers don't add significant wafer capacity. A 20% to 25% annual rate is expected in the long run. NAND supply growth is expected to be around 40% in 2017, a bit lower than Micron's long-term outlook.

Micron turns a profit when supply and demand are roughly balanced or when demand outpaces supply. Too much supply growth can wreak havoc on memory prices. SK Hynix, a competitor to Micron, announced on the same day that Micron reported its results that it plans to invest $2.7 billion to expand its memory chip production. High memory prices will eventually lead to increased production to take advantage of those prices. For the next few quarters, though, Micron should be able to generate a tidy profit.

$4 billion: Just a few days after the end of Micron's first quarter, the company closed its acquisition of Inotera Memories. Net of cash and debt, Micron paid $4 billion to acquire the portion of Inotera it didn't already own.

Beginning in the second quarter, Micron expects the acquisition to drive DRAM gross margins, EPS, and free cash flow higher. Unfortunately, the company's guidance doesn't break out the exact effects of the acquisition.

$4.35 billion-$4.70 billion: Micron expects the momentum it saw during the first quarter to continue into the second quarter. The company expects to generate revenue between $4.35 billion and $4.70 billion, up from just $2.93 billion during the second quarter of last year.

Profits are also expected to surge. Micron expects a non-GAAP gross margin between 31% and 34%, with a non-GAAP operating margin approaching 20% and non-GAAP EPS between $0.58 and $0.68. This guidance puts Micron's second-quarter margins right near typical levels during periods of strong profitability.

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