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Morgan Stanley downgrades trader favorite Micron to sell, says inventories will pressure margins

Key Points
  • Morgan Stanley downgrades Micron shares to underweight from equal weight and sets price target at $32 per share.
  • The bank expects Micron's semiconductor inventory to keep climbing, pushing down prices and margins.
  • The current consensus view that Micron's earnings are near a bottom is "much too optimistic," Morgan Stanley says.
Kai Pfaffenbach | Reuters

Morgan Stanley is downgrading shares of Micron to underweight from equal weight, saying the stock's price has rallied too far too fast even as the chipmaker faces a challenging inventory situation.

The investment bank's price target on Micron is $32 a share, 27 percent below Wednesday's closing price of $43.90. The average target price among analysts is $48.67, according to Factset.

Morgan Stanley says the growing consensus view that Micron's corporate earnings are near a bottom this quarter is "much too optimistic" considering that producer inventories have climbed to 25-year highs.

"We still see the longer term range for the stock price $30 to $60, but see a much higher likelihood that we see low 30s before we see high 50s," Morgan Stanley analysts Joseph Moore and Craig Hettenbach said in a research note Thursday.

Micron is a volatile stock and a favorite of traders on Wall Street, often among the most active on a typical day. The shares are up 38 percent this year through Wednesday, but still down 18 percent for the last 12 months.

Morgan Stanley sees Micron's DRAM semiconductors business remaining oversupplied throughout the year and into 2020. The market for its NAND semiconductors looks brighter, but the bank nevertheless sees challenging conditions throughout 2019.

Inventory climbing to 150 days by midyear is a "significant negative," the bank said.

"We are frankly amazed that this has become a point of debate. Current inventory is future supply, and when there is excess supply, prices and margins go down. There's just no way around that," Moore and Hettenbach wrote.

The analysts think demand will snap back in the second half, "but not enough to keep inventory from building during a period of seasonal strength, which is likely to be very bad for pricing and margins."