Applied Materials (AMAT) had a great 2nd fiscal quarter ending May 1, 2010 as reported in its press release and at its analyst conference on May 19, 2010. However, its new amorphous silicon solar sub-segment has run into troubles, which is what most analysts and news stories focussed on. For detail of what the Applied Materials executives said, see my Applied Materials Q2 2010 analyst conference summary.
Overall revenues were up 24% from fiscal Q1 and 125% from Q2 2009. Year earlier was a bad quarter for Applied. As a capital equipment manufacturer (for the semiconductor industry) new orders nearly dried up, and it lost $0.19 per share. But Q2 2010 showed GAAP EPS of $0.20. That sounds like a growth company that should have a high PE multiplier. Partly there were probably some market share gains, but mainly the quick, recent growth is a result of the macro economic cycle.
There is also a technology cycle, where electronic device makers want to squeeze more intelligence into smaller areas of silicon. In 2009 almost all orders were driven by the need for technology upgrades. Now fabs (as semiconductor factories are known) are needing to expand capacity as well. About 60% of sales in the latest quarter were for capacity expansion rather than replacing old technologies.
AMAT reports four sectors: silicon equipment; display equipment; services; and solar cell production equipment. Most of the growth in the quarter was from the silicon division, but display (panels for TVs and monitors) showed growth too. Services were not hit as hard by the recession, and so saw slower growth.
Solar has two basic parts: equipment for making crystaline cells and equipment for making amorphous, or thin-film, solar panels. The amorphous division is newer and looked promissing two years ago. The crystaline division is profitable and growing, but the thin-film division is in trouble. It is lumpier to begin with. It produced huge sheets of solar cells that are designed to be used by electical utility companies. The factories that make the thin films are capital intensive. One order for a plant was cancelled for lack of financing, while the owners of an existing plant went backrupt. As a result Applied took a $83 million inventory charge. Some investors are demanding that Applied kill this division. I think demand for low-cost solar power will ramp, and improvements in thin-film technology will make this a prized technology in a few years, unless the price of oil drops substantially. But only Applied management has the details available to it to make a good decision for stockholders. Of which I am one, by the way.
It is important to keep in mind that most of Applied's revenue and profits come from equipment for making semiconductor chips, and this segment looks to be in a strong growth cycle that should last through at least 2012. There is pent up demand. Many fabless companies like NVIDIA and Marvell are wishing more capacity were available. Demand is highly likely to ramp even more in calendar Q3 and Q4 this year. So AMAT is going to be making and shipping equipment as fast as they can until they catch up with the demand backlog.
Applied Materials has a lot of cash ($3.6 billion) a huge order backlog ($2.99 billion) and pays a dividend. While it is not without its risks, I consider it a safe, solid performer, but not a get-rich-quick stock. Right now, like many stocks, it is pretty obviously undervalued compared to investments like bonds and CDs. It closed Friday at $12.72 per share. Using Q2 GAAP earnings, that equates to a PE ratio of 15.9. Using non-GAAP EPS of $0.22, that makes the PE 14.5 per share. Which is to say earnings are around 6.7%, while dividends work out to 1.9% per year.
See also Applied Materials and its Fiscal Q2 2010 press release.
For my analyst conference summaries from earlier quarters, see Applied Materials analyst conference summaries.