Rising Star Buy: Applied Materials

This article is part of our Rising Star Portfolios series.

It's not easy to find the next stellar growth company -- the sort of stock that has the ability to double, triple, maybe even quintuple. Typically, you've got to be able to find some small technology or biotech company that is off the radar, and have faith early that its technology will propel it to higher levels.

Today, I'm doing the opposite. I'm going to buy shares of a $20 billion company, one that is neither new nor small, but one that I expect to go up by 20%-25%.

My pick: Applied Materials
For my Motley Fool real-money portfolio, I'm buying about $1,000 worth of Applied Materials (Nasdaq: AMAT  ) , the world's largest supplier of semiconductor manufacturing equipment. The company has been around since 1967 and easily has the largest offering of semi equipment and services in the industry. Applied Materials is on the manufacturing end of the semiconductor industry. While other companies will create complex designs for their chips, Applied Materials designs the fabrication tools needed physically create the chips themselves. The process is extremely complicated -- requiring dozens of various steps -- and Applied Materials has a rich history and unparalleled expertise that allows the company to deliver an unmatched product portfolio to fabrication operations.

What are the catalysts?
While Applied Materials might be the 800-pound gorilla on the block, it still faces extreme competition from rivals like Lam Research (Nasdaq: LCRX  ) , Novellus Systems (Nasdaq: NVLS  ) , and KLA-Tencor (Nasdaq: KLAC  ) . However, Applied Materials recently used its scale to aggressively expand into new growth areas that compete less directly with traditional rivals. Specifically, Applied Materials is placing a major bet behind both solar and LED.

Realizing that much of its equipment and expertise could be easily transferable to solar, Applied Materials began offering products for fabricating c-Si solar PVs. It mainly competes in the crystalline silicon-based portion of the solar market, which accounts for more than half of sales in the solar market. Because of Applied Materials' scope and size, it's been able to turn a non-existent function five years ago into a business generating nearly $1.5 billion in sales over the last 12 months. New orders in the energy and environmental solutions segment (solar, mostly) jumped by 190% in 2011, and while solar continues to grow as the global economy weans itself off traditional energy sources, expect Applied's equipment to be in ever greater demand.

In addition, chip makers, which depend and rely on Applied's expertise, have been booming lately. Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) just reported a 37% increase in first-quarter earnings as sales jumped by 25%. Looking beyond Intel, whose fortunes are largely tied to the PC market, the rise of tablets and smartphones provides a powerful growth catalyst for semiconductor demand in the coming years. Cypress Semiconductors (Nasdaq: CY  ) , a company whose fortune is increasingly tied to touch-screen controllers used in smartphones and tablets, saw its shares pop by 10% after it announced better-than-expected earnings and a great outlook for the following quarter. Add all this up and you get more chips, more fabrication, and more equipment/services needed in those processes.

Quality on the cheap 
Applied Materials has one of the best reputations in the industry, which allows it to stay close to customers, anticipate future needs and technology, and then deliver what's expected way before competitors have a chance. In fact, it recently won the prestigious 2010 Supplier Excellence Award from one of the biggest chip makers around, Texas Instruments (NYSE: TXN  ) . As Texas Instruments opens up a first facility in China and a new fab in Japan, Applied Materials is happy to ride the growth coattails.

A quality company paying a 2.1% dividend with a track record of excellence in a growing industry must, must trade for some lofty premium, right? Wrong. Applied Materials trades for a P/E of just 15, well below its five-year average of about 21 and below the industry average of 19.2.

This year, analysts expect the company to grow by 48%, but the semiconductor industry is cyclical, so expect some ups and downs over the next few years. However, if I were you, I'd join me and scoop up some shares before earnings are announced on May 24 and these shares truly take off.

This article is part of our Rising Star Portfolios series, where we give some of our most promising stock analysts cold, hard cash to manage on the Fool's behalf. We'd like you to track our performance and benefit from these real-money, real-time free stock picks. Click here to see all of our Rising Star analysts (and their portfolios).

Jordan DiPietro owns no shares. Intel is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Cypress Semiconductor is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Intel is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. The Fool owns shares of and has bought calls on Intel. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Intel. The Fool owns shares of Texas Instruments. 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. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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