The market hung up on mobile communications yesterday. Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) tumbled 12% due to disappointing earnings as it showed its slowest growth rates in years. Nokia fell 8% after suspending its dividend and Samsung dropped 2.5% on foreign exchanges after it also reported a slowdown in demand that, coupled with unfavorable currency rates, would lead to $2.8 billion cuts in operating profits. Even wireless service providers Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T hesitated to move because of the uncertainty, closing out the trading day virtually unchanged.
At least Research In Motion inched higher as continued speculation over who will buy its business continued pushing shares to higher valuations. The stock spiked following suggestions last week the company would consider putting the hardware division up for sale, and they rose 2% again yesterday when China's Lenovo said it might be interested in buying the BlackBerry line.
Yet despite the gloom and doom that hung over much of the sector, there was one smartphone play that managed to really rise above the morass. Gyroscopic sensor maker InvenSense (NYSE: INVN ) surged more than 11%, hitting levels it hasn't seen since last April, after reporting earnings that exceeded Wall Street expectations by $0.03 per share.
InvenSense's gyroscopes and accelerometers are found in handsets from Samsung, HTC, and LG, and can also be found in Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG ) Nexus 7 tablet, which has a combined gyro-accelerometer. Typically OEMs have discrete accelerometers and gyros, and according to one analyst, only one other company has done something like that (STMicroelectronics (NYSE: STM ) , which has one in Samsung's Galaxy S III smartphone). It's technology that allows the picture on the screen to rotate so it's always right side up no matter how you hold the device and InvenSense sees the combined offering leading to a ramp up in volumes beginning this quarter.
On the go
Smartphones and tablets were behind the 43% spike in revenue from the year-ago period, accounting for two-thirds of the increase. While it's firmly ensconced in Android platforms, InvenSense has yet to break through into iPhones and iPads, where STMicroelectronics remains the sole supplier of gyros and accelerometers. But InvenSense keeps hinting there may be a partnership in its future as it expects to provide sensor chips to all top-tier smartphone makers this year. Its technology already works natively with ARM Holdings' (NASDAQ: ARMH ) mobile chip designs, which themselves are featured in Apple products.
Still, the Android platform is dominant, says comScore, with 53.7% of smartphone subscribers using it, followed distantly by Apple's iOS, at 35%. So either way, InvenSense wins.
Written in stone
Mobile computing, despite the apparent weakness of Apple and Samsung, is not going away. The market researchers at NPD say tablet computers will overtake notebook PCs by 2017 as mobile PC shipments hit 809 million units. Tablets will account for 416 million of them, up from 121 million units in 2012, or a 28% compound growth rate, while notebooks will grow just 14% annually, from 208 million to 393 million. That's a lot of places for InvenSense to show up in, no matter which platform they're operating.
I thought the drubbing InvenSense took this past November after its CEO abruptly resigned was a bit much, though I also thought it still might be a tad expensive when comparing its enterprise value to the free cash flow it generates. However, the market disagreed and sent shares soaring 60%, and though it hasn't regained the highs it hit eight months ago, there still seems a lot of pages left to be read in this growth story. Let me know in the comments box below if you agree an investment in InvenSense makes sense to you.
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