Micron: Money from Memory

08/02/2013 8:00 am EST

Focus: STOCKS

Elliott Gue

Editor and Publisher, Energy and Income Advisor and Capitalist Times

Trying to pick a winner in the increasingly competitive handset and tablet market is a risky endeavor. Instead, investors should focus on names that benefit from growing demand for mobile devices, regardless of which handset maker comes out on top, explains Elliott Gue of Capitalist Times.

Micron Technology (MU) fits the bill. The company makes three kinds of semiconductor memory: NAND (44% of 2012 revenue), DRAM (39%), and NOR (12%).

NAND flash-memory chips are compact, energy-efficient, and capable of storing electronic data even when the power is switched off.

These qualities make NAND flash-memory the preferred solution in smartphones, tablets, and ultra-thin laptops equipped with shock-resistant solid-state drives.

DRAM is an older memory technology that's still used in many PCs and servers. Though less expensive than NAND, in terms of cost per storage capacity, DRAM is volatile memory that loses data quickly when powered down.

Once Micron Technology's most important product category, DRAM has shrunk to 39% of the firm's revenue, from about 60% in 2010. NOR flash-memory chips, which can be easily erased and reprogrammed, feature prominently in smartphones, automobiles, and industrial machinery.

Our investment thesis for Micron Technology rests on three pillars: rapidly growing demand for memory, reduced competition from industry consolidation, and a focus on rolling out new technology that should limit manufacturing capacity and prevent an oversupply over the next few years.

Robust demand for lower-end smartphones in emerging markets may pressure average handset selling prices, but this growth trend is big business for memory producers.

Not only are shipments of smartphones and tablets increasing, but the amount of memory in the average device is also on the rise, as consumers demand more capacity and capabilities from their handsets.

Since 2011, the capacity of NAND flash-memory in the average mobile phone has more than doubled to almost ten gigabytes (GB). Over the same period, the storage capacity of solid-state drives (flash-memory that functions as a hard drive) in laptops has jumped to more than 130GB from 84GB.

Whereas demand for flash-memory is on the rise, the supply of these chips remains constrained, because depressed prices and profit margins dissuaded producers from investing in additional manufacturing capacity.

We prefer Micron to Samsung and Toshiba, because the stock is a pure play on memory. Moreover, the company sports a debt-to-equity ratio of just over 40%, compared to about 58% for Hynix.

Micron Technology is also participating in industry consolidation through its $2.5 billion acquisition of Elpida Memory, which is slated to close before the year-end.

With the addition of Elpida Memory, Micron will overtake Hynix to become the second-largest DRAM player by market share.

We are adding Micron Technology to our Wealth Builders Portfolio. Prospective investors should be aware that the stock can be prone to volatility, though the risk-reward balance appears favorable at present.

Robust prices for memory, coupled with the acquisition of Elpida Memory, could propel the stock to about $20 per share over the next 12 months.

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