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Read-Rite&#039s nightmare continues in 4Q

    Read-Rite Corp. (Nasdaq: RDRT) closed out a horrendous fiscal year with an enormous loss in its fourth quarter Wednesday, losing $80.1 million, or $1.61 a share, on sales of $105.4 million.

    Its shares closed unchanged at $4 a share ahead of the earnings report.

    First Call consensus expected the struggling disk-drive maker to lose $1.08 a share in the quarter.

    In the year-ago quarter, it lost $29.5 million, or 61 cents a share, on sales of $175.9 million.

    For the fiscal year, Read-Rite lost $155.7 million, or $3.16 a share, on sales of $716.5 million compared to a loss of $319 million, or $6.59 a share, on sales of $808.6 million in fiscal 1998.

    Not surprisingly, Read-Rite shares have all but fallen off Wall Street's radar screen, plunging from a 52-week high of 20 9/16 in January to a low of 3 1/2 earlier this month.

    Company officials again blamed extreme pricing pressure in the disk-drive market combined with the trend toward fewer heads per drive for its dismal performance.

    "The year long pricing pressures were amplified during the fourth quarter, severely impacting the company's end-of-life 4.3 GB per platter MR products, which accounted for approximately 80 percent of product shipments," the company said in a prepared release. "Unit shipments were down in the fourth quarter as the GMR ramp did not occur until late in the quarter, with one million GMR HGAs shipped to customers, supporting capacity points of 7.1 to 9.1 GB per 3 1/2 inch platter."

    "As we enter fiscal year 2000, our strategy of technological leadership, operational excellence and broadening of the customer base is firmly taking shape," said CEO Cyril Yansouni in a prepared release. "Today, we are announcing a series of qualifications on significant GMR programs."

    Five of the seven analysts following Read-Rite maintain a "hold" rating on the stock.>