I'm a longtime shareholder of Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD ) , and my portfolio has absolutely enjoyed this stock's 200% rise over the past 12 months. But would I buy AMD again today? Not necessarily.
One-time victories aplenty
AMD has enjoyed a few victories lately that will not be repeated. Chief among them is the $1.25 billion settlement payment from Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) for a decade of allegedly dirty business practices. The successful separation of chip design and manufacturing operations has lightened the load on AMD's balance sheet considerably. And main graphics rival NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA ) has run into execution problems around the upcoming Fermi architecture, giving AMD's ATI division the upper hand in that eternal bout of dueling dragons.
All of this is great news for AMD investors -- but mostly for those of us who owned shares before each item hit the newswires. The settlement windfall, the graphics sea change, and the new operating model have all seemingly been priced into AMD's share price already. You can't count on any of these factors to repeat themselves and feed AMD's business in the future. The company can boast positive free cash flow in the past 12 months, but take away the Intel payment and we're way back in the red.
So I should sell?
Hold your horses, cowboy! Just because AMD won't win legal battles every quarter doesn't mean that the stock is an absolute sell now.
Under CEO Dirk Meyer, AMD has tightened its belt considerably. Expenses are tight, the company has stuck closer to product road maps, and AMD chips make sense for uses ranging from the data center to your laptop these days, even in the face of what is arguably Intel's strongest chip lineup ever. According to market researcher IDC, the underdog is taking market share from Intel in all three of the major markets -- server, laptop, and desktop systems -- while the total market is also expanding rapidly. There's a lot to like about what AMD is doing these days.
And I'm not alone in saying so. AMD is building steam among Wall Street analysts, where buy recommendations on the stock now outnumber the sells, eight to six. Broadpoint AmTech analyst Doug Freedman put a $12 price target on AMD in January (since raised to $14), reasoning that the company is gaining share in attractive markets like server chips and graphics products. That's better than a 25% premium to today's stock price. BroadpointAmTech's appraisal of AMD is among the most optimistic you'll find on Wall Street, but the firm does make a reasonable case for it.
Come on, already! Buy, sell, or hold?
For me, AMD is a hold almost by default. I write about the company very often, so the Foolish disclosure policy kind of shackles me to these stock certificates.
But that's almost beside the point, because I think that AMD is close enough to the stock's honest-to-goodness value anyway. If you agree wholeheartedly with the $12 value per share outlined above, which assumes forward earnings of $0.67 per share plus a bit more value unlocked from the manufacturing bifurcation, you still have to hang on for a while to reach that price. The Wall Street weighing machine can be a very bumpy ride, and risk-averse investors may want to look elsewhere.
In purely Foolish terms, I can understand why AMD is not recommended by any of our premium newsletters. The stock is too large and widely followed to be a Motley Fool Hidden Gems selection, too similar to market leader Intel to qualify as a Rule Breaker, and so on. And when AMD was truly cheap last year, it was still too risky to attract the roving eye of Philip Durell and his value hounds.
Even if you're dead-set on investing in semiconductor stocks, you can find another one that fits every pure strategy better. Intel or Texas Instruments (NYSE: TXN ) are the more classic value plays right now, and Texas Instruments even pays a dividend; Sigma Designs (Nasdaq: SIGM ) and Cypress Semiconductor (NYSE: CY ) play better to the extreme growth crowd with tons of untapped potential; and Atheros Communications (Nasdaq: ATHR ) is a small fish in a rapidly growing wireless communications pond, and the stock can't be stopped. All of these investment theses are probably stronger than the case for a long-term 30% gain you could construct for AMD.
AMD's ace in the hole is the expensive ATI buyout, which leads to the Fusion philosophy and entirely new thinking about computer architecture. That story arc comes to fruition next year, which explains why many analysts expect to see AMD's earnings turning positive all of a sudden. Patience pays.
Last call for advice
AMD may yet return to the $20 to $40 range seen in the glory days of the Athlon processor, but that will take years and is not easy money by any means. The balance sheet is looking better day by day, and net profits are in the cards -- for 2011. It's not a terrible stock, and I'm happy to hold it even without our disclosure requirements, but I'm not backing up the truck to buy more unless AMD takes another nosedive for no reason first.
That's my $0.02. How about you? Give AMD a proper rating in Motley Fool CAPS and use the comment box below to share your motivation.