Why Western Digital Fell Flat in 2012

The first half of 2012 is in the rearview mirror, and investors are gearing up for what looks to be an action-packed ending. There are bound to be some big winners -- and more than a few duds -- no matter what happens in the United States and abroad.

Will your favorite stock have its victory lap as we hit the home stretch, or will it get lapped? First-half performances can hold some clues, so let's look to the recent past to find out whether Western Digital (Nasdaq: WDC  ) deserves a place in your portfolio going forward.

First-half recap
For much of 2012, Western Digital was a highflier. Its stock hasn't been the same since the end of April, as you can see here:

WDC Total Return Price Chart

WDC Total Return Price data by YCharts

We'll look at why Western Digital dropped in just a moment, but first let's take a look at a few financial snapshots of its recent performance:

Market Cap $7.9 billion
Trailing 12-Month Revenue $10.13 billion
TTM Net Income $1.03 billion
TTM Free Cash Flow $1.84 billion
Most Recent Quarterly Revenue $3.04 billion
MRQ Net Income $483 million
MRQ Free Cash Flow $1.55 billion
MRQ Revenue / Net Income YOY Change 34.8% / 230.8%
P/E and Forward P/E 7.2 / 3.7
Price-to-Free-Cash Flow 5.1
Motley Fool CAPS Rating (out of 5) **** ( find out more by clicking here )

Source: Morningstar.

What the numbers don't tell you
Western Digital and Seagate (Nasdaq: STX  ) are alike in many ways. Seagate completed its acquisition of Samsung's hard disk drive business at the end of 2011; Western Digital finished its acquisition of Hitachi's data storage unit in March. Both companies now control nearly all the hard disk drive industry, and both suffered from catastrophic Thai floods that damaged much of their manufacturing infrastructure.

The two companies diverge at this critical event, though, and that might help explain why Seagate's stock is up 55% since January while Western Digital is flat for the year to date. Sure, Western Digital trounced weak expectations with its January earnings report. But since supplies were crimped, Western Digital could afford to jack up prices on its existing hard disk drive stocks, juicing profit in a big way. Once the company announced it had gotten past the tough times of short supplies, investors fled out of fear that those tasty margins would soon evaporate.

The subsequent sell-off brings us to the present day, with Western Digital down more than 40% from its high point. Seagate is down as well -- but since its high point represented a doubling from the start of the year, it could afford to give back a bit more.

How will Western Digital bounce back? Can it bounce back? Super-investor David Einhorn seems to favor Seagate, having increased his already sizable stake last month. The hard disk drive industry is fully mature, and investors can look to major computer manufacturers Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) and Dell to gauge the industry's prospects. Neither company offers an encouraging glimpse of the hard disk drive's future:

HPQ Revenues TTM Chart

HPQ Revenues TTM data by YCharts

Meanwhile, the lucrative server market has begun shifting toward faster solid-state memory. Fusion-io (NYSE: FIO  ) already counts HP, Apple, and Facebook as clients, and networking giant Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO  ) came on board the solid-state bandwagon several weeks ago. Western Digital has its own line of solid-state drives, but it may find itself at a disadvantage in this new tech battlefield if it can't prove that it can meet or beat its upstart competitors on speed.

Western Digital might be a leader in high-tech manufacturing, but it's looking like yesterday's stock. Find out which stocks are your best bets for tomorrow in The Motley Fool's most popular free report on next-generation manufacturing. We call them "3 Stocks to Own for the New Industrial Revolution," and we think they deserve a place in your portfolio today. Find out more -- reserve your copy of this important report now.

Fool contributor Alex Planes holds no financial position in any company mentioned here. Add him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter @TMFBiggles for more news and insights.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Western Digital, Facebook, Cisco Systems, and Fusion-io. The Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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