Intel Seems Grossly Undervalued: Why $28 or $30 Stock Price Easily May Be Hit

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Intel Corp. (INTC) is in a strange place right now for investors. The processor giant has been hamstrung from its lack of participation in the smartphone and tablet market as Qualcomm Corp. (QCOM) and ARM Holdings PLC (ARMH) have dominated. What is interesting is that Intel has made some serious catching-up strides with recent announcements out of its conference. There also may be some serious hidden value for investors in the world's largest chip company. In fact, the analyst upgrade cycle may have only just begun, and the current consensus seems very much out of date after looking around.

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When we reviewed the chip sector for uncommon stock values, three other chip names seemed more worth a look from investors. That being said, Intel actually may be a player here for value investors who are willing to use the stealth mode of a few key analysts rather the cover of all analysts.

What stands out in a simple value screen is that Intel is fully valued on the surface. After all, its $23.39 close on Monday and $23.74 closing price on Tuesday are just too close to the $23.80 consensus price target from Thomson Reuters.

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The reason we suggest that investors can use the stealth coverage of a few key analysts rather than the cover of all analysts is because Intel recently has snagged some key upgrades with much higher price targets. In fact, we would quickly point out that most of the bearish Intel calls and lower-than-current share price targets are not so much from fresh research calls at all.

Credit Suisse was actually the first line of reasoning for such an in-depth hidden value review. With the consensus price target much lower, Credit Suisse's John Pitzer maintained an Outperform rating while raising its already bullish $28 price target to $30. He sees growth reaccelerating and said:

We believe Intel is at an important inflection point, which should provide tangible evidence of a robust business model even in the post-PC era. Specifically, we see DCG growth accelerating. In addition, the mix shift towards DCG EPS should drive multiple expansion. Applying a 20 multiple to our DCG EPS potential alone yields a stock price of $30 to $40.

Wait a minute, does that say up to $40, rather than just $30?

Bank of America/Merrill Lynch on September 16 included Intel as a tactical rally candidate, which is more of a chart call than a fundamental call. The team said, "Intel is one underweighted mega cap that has held support and is set up for a tactical rally." The formal Buy rating was last updated at the firm in May, and the fundamental team actually has a $28 price target for Intel.

Standard & Poor's last updated Intel on September 14 with a Buy rating and a $28 price target.

Jefferies raised Intel to Buy from Hold as recently as September 13. The logic was that Intel is gaining on chip sales beyond those for the PC. Jefferies raised the price target to $30 from $27 in the upgrade.

Another upgrade on Intel was missed most while everyone was out for the Labor Day holiday. On August 30 an upgrade to Buy from Hold was issued by the independent research firm of Argus. This was based on Intel's technology leadership, as it should finally make it competitive in the smartphone and tablet market. The firm said that its 14 nm process and 3D transistors should allow OEMs to make room for a competitor to ARM Holdings PLC (ARMH). While Deutsche Bank decided on the same day to upgrade ARM Holdings to Buy from Sell, that upgrade pointed out that Intel could gain 10% market share in smartphones and tablets by 2016.

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One last recent call we have seen for the bullish camp is simply a reversal of a bearish stance. Piper Jaffray reversed its Underweight rating issued back in June by raising the stock to Neutral. That is hardly much to get excited about on the surface, but it is one less equivalent of a Sell rating. The firm even pointed toward revenue growth climbing again, based in part on tablet processor sales.

This was a long early cycle call, but Barron's even wrote in its June 3 edition that Intel's shares, around $24 at the time, could double in the next five years. The article pointed out that Intel's capex is growing, and it is winning more business on the OEM front, as Intel can use its manufacturing capacity to win chip-building business far beyond Altera and Microsemi. The report even noted a possible deal from Apple Inc. (AAPL) could be coming down the pipe for Intel.

We recently issued our list of six key dividend hikes we expect before the end of 2013. Intel was not on that list because it has been aggressive in capital spending and is buying back shares. Its prior dividend hikes were actually big enough that we think Intel may have to hold off dividend hikes until 2014 or maybe even 2015. That being said, Intel's 3.8% dividend yield is higher than that of its peer group, and it is even higher than the average Dow Jones Industrial Average stock.

Even if you consider what has been lost in smartphones and tablets to date, ask yourself if this market cap comparison seems right to you. Intel's market cap is $118 billion, while Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) has a market cap of $119 billion. Qualcomm is trading at just over 15 times this year's expected earnings and is expected to have sales of $24.7 billion this year. Intel trades at less than 13 times this year's expected earnings, and its sales are expected to be about $53 billion.

Intel's recent closing price of $23.74 is up against a 52-week range of $19.23 to $25.98. Intel was back up as high as $29 in the first half of 2012, and it has been almost a decade since Intel traded above $30.

It seems that the push for smartphone and tablet chip business at a time when the PC market has been all but written off may have left an artificially dark cloud over Intel that has allowed rivals to gain in value. After looking at all the underlying calls for upside, there is a stealthy value trade still available in Intel that traditional value screens simply might overlook.

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