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Etec Systems jumps on upgrade, 4Q results

Semiconductor-equipment maker Etec Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ETEC) shot up 5 1/32, or 12 percent, to 44 Thursday after posting a smaller-than-expected loss in its fourth quarter.

ABN-AMRO upgraded the stock Thursday from a "hold" recommendation to "outperform."

In the quarter, Etec lost $3.9 million, or 18 cents a share, on sales of $48 million, a 45 percent drop from the year-ago quarter when it earned $18.2 million, or 80 cents a share, on sales of $87.8 million.

First Call consensus expected Etec to lose 21 cents a share in the quarter.

Gross profit margins slipped from 57 percent to 32 percent, due to lower unit volume, increased manufacturing costs and a higher percentage of service sales which carry a lower profit margin.

For the year, Etec earned $1 million, or 5 cents a share, on sales of $237.2 million compared to a profit of $46.8 million, or $2.05 a share, on sales of $288.3 million in fiscal 1998.

"While 1999 was a challenging year for Etec and our customers, we have begun to see an improved business environment," said CEO Steve Cooper in a prepared release. "While our major customers continue to exercise caution in their forecasts, the need for 180-nanometer production and 130-nanometer early development is expected to lead to increased unit demand in our fiscal year 2000."

Last quarter, Etec pocketed $1.9 million, or 9 cents a share, on sales of $57 million.

The stock surged to a 52-week high of 55 in February after bottoming out at 14 7/8 in October.

Eleven of the 14 analysts following the stock maintain either a "buy" or "strong buy" recommendation.

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