And it’s a brutal business.
Micron has not only had to deal with meager PC demand, but commodization. What really differentiates one memory chip from another? Not much — and as a result, it is extremely difficult to maintain margins. Especially in an equally fierce competitive environment that also includes Samsung, as well as SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK), Toshiba and others.
And the icing on the cake? The company lost longtime CEO Steve Appleton earlier this year when he was killed in a plane crash.
Micron has struggled during the past five years, with an annual average loss around 10%, and MU has fallen roughly 20% since Appleton’s February death.
On its face, Seagate Technology (NASDAQ:STX) has a lot to like. Despite doubling through two-thirds of 2012, it’s still only trading at 5 times earnings — and that’s with a juicy 3.9% yield!
However, investors should note that Seagate got a huge helping hand from the heavy flooding in Thailand last year, which hit primary rival Western Digital (NASDAQ:WDC) hard while leaving STX less disturbed. But that trend is temporary, and the markets have been getting back to normal, which could make it more difficult for STX to keep up the heady results. Same goes for the slowing global economy.
Seagate also will face long-term headwinds as the PC tide turns — as demand drops off, sales for hard drives should follow. The storage industry is also undergoing some major new changes, with a focus on flash memory. Seagate is trying to make the transition, but it faces entrenched rivals like Fusion-io (NYSE:FIO).
To remain competitive, Seagate might have to get aggressive with acquisitions — and if that’s the case, the price tags won’t be cheap, plus it will face the troubles inherent with integrating fast-growing companies.
Tom Taulli runs the InvestorPlace blog IPOPlaybook, a site dedicated to the hottest news and rumors about initial public offerings. He also is the author of “All About Short Selling” and “All About Commodities.” Follow him on Twitter at @ttaulli. As of this writing, he did not own a position in any of the aforementioned securities.