This Stock Has a Chip on Its Shoulder

Everywhere Applied Materials (Nasdaq: AMAT  ) turns, there's a growth opportunity.

The company supplies materials and equipment for semiconductor manufacturing and solar panels -- two red-hot markets in the midst of massive expansion. Applied expects the solar panel market to grow more than 30% this year while wafer equipment spending jumps as much as 15% to become a $35 billion market.

In the just-reported first quarter of fiscal year 2012, Applied's sales improved by 45% and beat management's own guidance and GAAP earnings multiplied from $0.06 per share to $0.38 per share. CEO Michael Splinter gave credit to several factors for this terrific quarter, including rampant demand for smartphones and tablets alongside surprisingly strong interest in installing solar panels in markets like Germany, Italy, China, and California.

You want more growth drivers? Fine.

The display segment should be weakening as demand for plain old LCD panels is met largely by existing manufacturing lines, but Applied also provides equipment for making touchscreen LCD panels and OLED displays. That makes Applied Materials an alternative play on those trends, in case OLED specialist Universal Display (Nasdaq: PANL  ) and touchscreen expert Cypress Semiconductor (Nasdaq: CY  ) are too rich for your blood. Cypress shares trade for 53 times trailing earnings, and Universal Display isn't profitable yet, but you can buy Applied Materials for 16 times trailing earnings.

There's a lot to like about Applied Materials, particularly if management's growth projections work out as planned. And there's no reason why they shouldn't: Applied has a $3.5 billion order backlog to fall back on, and that excellent order visibility inspired Applied's management to trump analyst expectations with an $11 billion sales forecast for fiscal 2012.

Can this five-star CAPS operator deliver on its lofty promises? Add Applied Materials to your watchlist if you want to find out.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Cypress Semiconductor and Universal Display are Motley Fool Rule Breakers picks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


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