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Applied Materials leads chip-equipment stocks higher

Despite the woes of its chip-manufacturing brethren, semiconductor-equipment stocks made decent gains Tuesday after Morgan Stanley Dean Witter raised its 12-month price targets on a handful of leaders.

Leading the charge was Applied Materials Inc. (Nasdaq: AMAT), up 5 3/16 to 108 9/16 after Morgan Stanley Dean Witter raised its target price from $105 a share to $120.

Applied Materials, the world's largest chip-equipment vendor, has been on a torrid run in the past year, racing up from a 52-week low of 24 3/16 last April to a high of 115 earlier this month. In between, it split 2-for-1 in March.

There's every reason to believe Applied shares will move even higher as the Santa Clara, Calif. company has already predicted a blowout second quarter with sales in excess of $2 billion.

Last quarter, Applied easily topped analysts' estimates, earning $328 million, or 80 cents a share, on sales of $1.67 billion.

First Call consensus expects Applied to earn 55 cents a share in its second quarter.

Advest Inc. also upgraded Applied Materials Tuesday, bumping it from a "buy" recommendation to a "strong buy."

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter also upped its price targets on some of Applied's largest competitors.

KLA-Tencor Corp. (Nasdaq: KLAC) was raised from $90 a share to $105 a share. Its shares moved up 4 7/16 to 88 1/4.

Lam Research Corp. (Nasdaq: LRCX), which was upped to $65 a share from $57 a share, was up 2 1/8 to 51 3/8 and Teradyne Inc. (NYSE: TER) fell 2 1/8 to 92 after it was bumped to $110 a share from $90.