Research firm IDC recently released new projections for chip growth in both 2012 and 2013 that came in lower than previous expectations. As recently as July, the firm expected industry growth to come in at 4.6% with total revenue of $315 million, but the recent report dropped the growth number to 1% with revenue at $304 million. IDC cites global economic weakness and weak PC demand, among other factors, as some of the reasons for the slowdown. While reduced from its original projection of 6.2%, IDC now estimates 2013 growth at 4.9%. As you prepare for 2013 and consider your allocation to semiconductors, the role of reduced growth expectations should be central.
As the industry stands, even with the lowered expectations, both Qualcomm andIntel remain top picks heading into 2013. On the other hand, NVIDIA and ARM Holdings , while solid, may need to be tempered under the new targets. When we consider the numbers, however, there is the potential for each of these options to perform.
A growing consensus
The IDC report comes on the tail of a recent release from Gartner that also lowered that firm’s expectations for 2012 and 2013. Gartner is actually predicting a 3% decrease in semiconductor revenue for 2012, down to $298 million, but is much closer to IDC for 2013 with a projection of 4.5% growth. Both firms cite softness in the memory market — specifically in DRAM — as a major source of weakness for the year. The IDC report also looked to weakness in China, the ongoing eurozone debt crisis, weak PC demand, and other factors as catalysts for its lowered expectations.
Principal analyst Peter Middleton of Gartner stated: “The looming fiscal cliff, ongoing European debt crisis, slower emerging market growth and regional tensions have all played a part in reduced growth projections for semiconductor revenue in both 2012 and 2013. Inventory levels were already high at the start of the second half of 2012, and as PC demand rolled off, supply simply overshot demand.” The takeaway from each of these reports is that the general weakness in the economy is likely to create a drag on growth, even in an industry that is experiencing dramatic advances.
By the numbers
While it is easy to see the reduced expectations for the industry as a negative — OK, it is a negative — it is still important to keep the numbers in perspective. Even at the lower projections, IDC expects the industry to add $15 billion in revenues for 2013. Against the revenues of each of the companies mentioned above, this is still a significant increase:
||Revenue Increase for 10% Growth
Source: Yahoo! Finance. TTM = trailing 12 months.
While the numbers required for 10% growth for each of these companies are not insignificant, and there is no reason to believe that the growth would be evenly distributed, the takeaway is that each of these companies could grow at 10% and still fall comfortably within the IDC numbers.
To further put this into perspective, each of the above companies have year-over-year revenue growth above 10% except for Intel, which shrunk revenue by 5.5%. Qualcomm grew revenue by 18.3%, ARM grew revenue by 20.3%, and NVIDIA grew revenue by 12.9%. This means that 10% revenue growth would be a slowdown for the three that grew, but with the strength of these companies, it is not inconceivable that they could continue to post solid growth figures while stealing sales from competitors.
Qualcomm is the “New Chip King,” and is not likely to slow down as it charges into 2013. Central to this position is the company’s solid lead in 4G LTE. A recent report by Strategy Analytics locates Qualcomm’s market share in application processors at 48.1%. The industry as a whole grew at 69% on year-over-year basis, making the figure even more impressive. Overall, Qualcomm is strongly positioned, and is a buy despite the reduced IDC expectations.
Intel, which is generally considered a deep value within the industry, benefits from its diversified exposure to multiple market segments: the PC, mobile, and server markets.DIGITIMES recently reported that Intel plans to roll out a completely redesigned smartphone platform at the Mobile World Congress at the end of February. Furthermore, the company is expected to maintain its strong position within the $10 billion server market and the $31 billion PC market (for reference, PC market revenue remains five times larger than that for mobile processors).
While ARM continues to benefit from what Mr. Middleton at Gartner refers to as the“Apple effect,” it is simply not as strongly positioned as Qualcomm. Even with that in mind, the company’s relatively small size means it can hit significant growth figures without dramatically swinging aggregate market numbers. NVIDIA continues to be a solid player of the tablet side of the market, but also lags Qualcomm in overall appeal.
Overall, while the report from IDC should not be overlooked, there is still plenty of upside in the industry. The real impact is that with slower growth, you will have to be somewhat selective as to which names to own rather than just buying at will. Qualcomm and Intel remain my top two picks.
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