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Novellus Systems sees 4Q sales, earnings on target

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.