The tech industry generates both profits and headlines, but as the last year has shown, it’s not always the right investment for the faint-hearted. The semiconductor sector has shown extreme volatility in the past 18 months, as it is highly sensitive to the US-China trade war. Semiconductor chips are the third largest export from the US, and much of that trade is with China; the sector has bounced up and down in line with news of new tariffs, possible deals, broken talks, and resumed negotiations.
Long-term, however, chips have been an excellent investment. The industry as a whole is up over 430% in the last 10 years, so the key here is patience more than quick returns. Most of the major chip companies have already warned that 2H19 results will miss the estimates, and shares are down in response. But is this the time to buy the dip?
There are some who say it is. Len Jelinek, senior director of semiconductor manufacturing for IHS Markit, says, “Every market downturn has ended with the arrival of a technical innovation that spurred a major increase in demand… Now another historic innovation is set to take its place among these advances: 5G. However, 5G's impact will spread far beyond the confines of the tech industry, impacting every aspect of society and driving new economic activity that will spur rising demand for microchips.” His firm predicts a semiconductor rebound next year, with 5.9% industry growth for 2020. In dollar terms, the forecast is an industry increase from $422 billion to $448 billion, as the global switch to 5G brings renewed growth as tech adapts and upgrades – and replaces outmoded chips.
The profit potential inherent in 5G, and consequent increased demand, has caught the attention of RBC Capital’s 5-star analyst Mitch Steves. Steves is an expert on the tech sector, with a 72% success rate on his stock reviews, and an impressive 19.9% average return on his recommendations. He’s weighed in on three major players in the US semiconductor scene, and explained what makes each of them a compelling buy. We’ve dipped into TipRanks’ database to find out what he has to say.
Advanced Micro Devices (AMD)
The smallest of the three chip companies that Steves reviewed, AMD boasts a market cap of $33.6 billion and brought in $6.48 billion in revenues last year. In recent weeks, AMD received a much-needed confidence booster from Microsoft, which announced that the latest version of its 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 will be powered by AMD’s new Ryzen chip. Microsoft’s move offers precedent for other computer manufacturers looking to shift away from the Inte chips that have long dominated the PC market.
AMD’s gaming prospects are strong, as well. The company has announced a new line of Radeon chips that will compete with Nvidia’s mainstream offerings, although not in the high-end GPU market. If successful, the new RX 5500 should keep AMD’s GPU market share stable, providing a ready profit stream.
Perhaps the most important development for AMD’s future line-up, however, is in the server processor segment. The company has plans for two new chips to target the server and data center markets. Releases are planned for the next 12 months, at a pace that will put AMD ahead of its competitors, and on track to see company-wide sales increase in coming years. Expectations are for a 4% gain in 2019, and an impressive 25% gain in 2020.
Steves is definitely bullish on AMD. He writes, “Recent concern that AMD Ryzen 3 is having reliability issues is unfounded... If the stock remains at current levels and does not move notably higher before Q3 earnings, we would buy the stock more than usual.”
Elaborating on the chip maker’s prospects, he describes the upside scenario as: “AMD rapidly gains share in the server market and sees continual high double-digit growth in Computing and Graphics. This creates a revenue base north of $10B and operating margins expand into the 20%+ territory. With a successful next-generation product launch, this allows the company to gain 30%+ share of the server market and we think the stock would be worth more than $60.”
For now, Steves gives AMD a $44 price target, indicating confidence in a 45% growth potential over the next 12 months. The analyst consensus on AMD is a Moderate Buy, based on 8 "buy," "12 hold," and 1 "sell" ratings. The average price target of $33.29 points to an 8% upside. (See AMD stock analysis on TipRanks)
Micron Technology (MU)
Micron is the second-largest US semiconductor company, and the fifth largest globally. The company recorded an impressive $31.8 billion in sales for 2018, netting $5.09 billion in profits. Despite 16% earnings beat in its fiscal Q4 report, MU shares slipped in the last week of September. Investors were worried about a weaker outlook for NAND, and lower supply growth in DRAM.
On the positive side, however, Micron is shipping its first 1z-nanometer chips, marking a production shift from 1x and 1y output. Demand for the company’s products is expected to increase in the coming year, as consumers grow more comfortable with the shift to solid-state drives. Micron is also expected to gain market share on non-volatile memory express and subsequent improvements in SSD sales.
As for new technologies, Micron is in the center of the 5G rollout and is heavily exposed to the automotive industry. We discussed 5G above; regarding automotive, as car makers increase the computer components in cars – especially in the advent of autonomous vehicles – chip demand will increase rapidly. Micron is well-positioned to make gains in this segment.
For the near-term, MU is forecast to hold steady in market share and sales. By 2021, however, the company is expected to see gains approaching 18%. This longer-term forecast makes sense of Mitch Steves’ comments on the stock. He writes, “We remain positive on Micron but keep our price target unchanged as we think the pricing flow through will take a quarter or two longer than expected (fundamentally, we think investors over-shot the near-term but the long-term could exceed new models). Positively, we think we’re past the bottom on NAND and DRAM is beginning to bottom.” Steves’ unchanged price target is $55, implying a 21% upside potential.
Overall, MU’s Moderate Buy consensus comes from 16 "buy," 8 "hold," and 2 "sell" ratings assigned in the last three months. The stock’s $55 price target matches Steves’ forecast. (See Micron stock analysis on TipRanks)
Nvidia Corporation (NVDA)
Our final stock from Steves’ list is also the tenth-largest chipmaker in the world, counting by total sales. Nvidia recorded $12.8 billion in sales for 2018, which brought the company $4.1 billion in net income. Strong sales and income also support a dividend, another plus for investors. The annualized yield is decidedly modest, at 0.33%, but it does pay out 64 cents per share per year, and the company has been growing that payout reliably over the past six years.
Nvidia is well known among gamers for its high-quality GPU chips, and the company holds a dominant position in that segment. Gamemaker Activision Blizzard has at least four upcoming titles that will be using Nvidia’s RTX platform, and important boon for the chip maker. As new titles come out, gamers are likely to upgrade their GPU chips to support them.
The automotive sector is another plus for Nvidia. As autonomous vehicle technology comes ever closer, the car makers have more and more need for fast AI chips. Nvidia reported a $209 million jump in this segment in its last quarter, as it looks at sustained growth in chip sales for the automotive AI market. All in all, gaming and automotive will give Nvidia sales boosts in the near term. Market watchers see a 19% gain in the offing for 2020, and a further 16% in 2021.
RBC's Steves takes all of this into account when he writes, “Our checks suggest that gaming demand is tracking slightly ahead of plan and we think Data Center is coming back in Q4. We raise our estimates and increase our price target to $217 (from $190). We think NVIDIA will be the best-performing large cap in our universe over the next 6–9 months.”
Steves sums up his upbeat stance on NVDA in a single sentence: “We think results will be better than expected but our adjustments are modest in nature, as we hope that expectations do not get
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