Novellus Systems sees 4Q sales, earnings on target

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Novellus Systems tried to reassure its investors after the bell Thursday as CEO Richard Hill told analysts that it expects to report fourth-quarter sales and earnings in line with analysts' estimates.

Hill told analysts to expect sales in the neighborhood of $450 million in the quarter and earnings of 71 cents a share, matching the current First Call Corp. consensus estimate.

Novellus Systems (Nasdaq: NVLS) shares closed off $3.25, or 11 percent, to $25.94 ahead of the comments.

Novellus shares were roughed up earlier this week when Prudential Securities analyst Shekhar Prananick cut his 12-month price target on the chip-equipment maker to $55 a share while maintaining his "strong buy" recommendation.

"We are lowering our 12-month price target to $55 to reflect the slower growth in 2001," he wrote in a research report. "However, we would build positions in the stock during times of weakness."

Earlier Thursday, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HWP) issued a similar statement, reiterating sales and earnings estimates for its first quarter.

Last quarter, Novellus Systems met analysts' estimates when it posted a profit of $85.3 million, or 62 cents a share, on sales of $359.1 million.

Among other widely held chip-equipment stocks, Applied Materials (Nasdaq: AMAT) closed off $2.50 to $40.44; Lam Research (Nasdaq: LRCX) lost $2.44 to $27.50 and KLA-Tencor (Nasdaq: KLAC) finished off 50 cents to $15.

Novellus Systems shares moved as high as $70.25 in March after falling to a 52-week low of $23.88 in December.

Seventeen of the 19 analysts following the stock maintain either a "buy" or "strong buy" recommendation.