Despite an explosion in smartphone and tablet sales in 2012, overall semiconductor sales were down for the year. The three-month average for global chip sales was $24.74 billion in December, down 3% from a revised November figure of $25.51 billion, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association. Is this a trend that will continue into 2013 or is there reason to be more positive on the industry?
Global chip sales for 2012 reached $291.6 billion, a decrease of 2.7% from $299.5 billion in 2011. But total sales for the year were slightly above the $290 billion predicted by the World Semiconductor Trade Statistics (WSTS) organization in November. WSTS forecasts the global chip market will grow by 4.5% in 2013.
ARM Holdings PLC (NASDAQ: ARMH) reported earnings that rose 19.2% year-over-year to GBP164.2 million, versus the GBP151.4 million consensus. ARM enters 2013 with a robust opportunity pipeline for licensing and a record order backlog. Market share gains in long-term growth sectors look set to continue as their partners introduce new chips based on ARM technology. While analysts have recently downgraded the stock on valuation, any significant dip in the stock price may offer investors an excellent entry point.
Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) reported adjusted earnings $0.51 per share ($0.48 per share net) and $13.5 billion in sales. Thomson Reuters had estimates of $0.45 per share and $13.53 billion in sales. For the coming quarter, Intel sees revenues of $12.7 billion, with its usual plus-or-minus $500 range. Thomson Reuters has the coming quarterly earnings report showing a consensus of about $12.9 billion in revenue. The company is trying to end its dependence on the personal computer market to focus on the smartphone and tablet arena. With a very nice 4.25% dividend, investors can be patient with the chip giant.
In a very competitive environment, memory chip maker Micron Technology Inc. (NASDAQ: MU) may have the ability to surprise when it reports in March. Long a victim of stubbornly low and competitive pricing in the industry, memory chip prices have jumped recently and may continue higher. With a forward price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 15.30, analysts are expecting earnings per share to be up 193% next year, and the stock is trading for slightly over book value and under one times sales. Plus insider ownership has increased by 45% over the past six months.
Another name with a potential for a bright 2013 is SanDisk Corp. (NASDAQ: SNDK), which designs, develops and manufactures NAND flash memory storage solutions that are used in various consumer electronics products. SanDisk chips are found in the Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone 5. Smartphone makers pay up for flash, at least compared with other types of semiconductors. At $21, the SanDisk chip is the second-most-expensive component in a 32-gigabit (GB) iPhone 5, according to research firm IHS iSuppli. Only the touchscreen display costs more. SanDisk is the biggest pure-play maker of flash memory. Two weeks ago, Rajvindra Gill, an analyst for Needham, upgraded the stock to Buy from Hold. He has a price target of $60 but sees the possibility of a $65-to-$70 stock. He points out that gross margins were 40% in the fourth quarter, compared with an expected 33%, and says, “We expect margins to improve throughout the year. And when you flow that through the model, you get a tremendous amount of earnings.” In a bullish scenario, per-share earnings could reach $5 next year, Gill says, nearly a dollar above the current consensus.
One other area to always look at when gauging the growth and health of the semiconductor industry is the actual manufacturing of the chips. Applied Materials Inc. (NASDAQ: AMAT) provides manufacturing equipment, services and software to the semiconductor, flat panel display, solar photovoltaic and related industries worldwide. Like Intel, Applied Materials is an industry leader, and also pays a solid 2.76% dividend. While analysts are only expecting $0.03 in earnings for the quarter that ended in January, revenues are expected to jump from $7.58 billion this year to $9.13 billion next year, a 20% increase. Applied Materials actually may prove to be a very solid value play.
With 2012 behind the industry and growth for 2013 expected to be close to 5%, it just makes sense for investors to look at quality names in the semiconductor sector that can benefit from improving economies and a healthier consumer climate.