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Altera moves closer to 52-week high

    Altera shares edged closer to a 52-week high Tuesday, gaining 2 3/4 to 104 1/8 after ABN AMRO upgraded the stock from a "buy" recommendation to its "top pick" list.

    Altera (Nasdaq: ALTR) shares staggered through some rocky trading in early April before surging to a 52-week high of 108 later that month.

    It and fellow programmable logic device makers such Xilinx (Nasdaq: XLNX), Actel (Nasdaq: ACTL) and Lattice Semiconductor (Nasdaq: LSCC) have supplied much of the growth seen on major semiconductor indices in the past six months.

    As network-equipment and telecommunications companies sprint to get their wares to market as fast as possible, these designer chipmakers' combination of speed and flexibility has proven increasingly critical.

    Altera's fantastic stock performance in the past year, up from a 52-week low of 32 1/2 last June, reflects this sector's growing popularity.

    On Tuesday, Xilinx shares closed off 3 15/16 to 82 13/16 while Actel and Lattice moved up 2 1/4 and 1/2 a share, respectively.

    In its most recent quarter, Altera topped Street estimates by a 2 cents a share, earning $75.2 million, or 36 cents a share, on sales of $272.8 million.

    Analyst expect it to return a profit of 42 cents a share in its second quarter and $1.72 a share in the fiscal year.

    Of the 25 analysts following the stock, 20 rate Altera either a "buy" or "strong buy."