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There are obvious ways to invest in the growing smartphone market, like buying shares of Apple or Nokia. The downside to a direct investment in these companies is that it also exposes you to the risks that come with new devices falling short of consumer expectations, such as the lukewarm reception of BlackBerry's Z10 and Q10 models. While it isn't possible to eliminate all the risks associated with this volatile industry, by investing in the makers of components inside some of the hottest phones on the market, you can at least lessen your risk exposure.
A touchscreen play
For years, among a sea of semiconductor manufacturers, Atmel (UNKNOWN: ATML.DL ) struggled to create a standout product. As the market for touchscreen devices continues to grow, it seems as though Atmel has found its place, gaining significant market share with its line of touch sensors. The company's microcontrollers are found in numerous devices from Asus, Lenovo, Sony, and Nokia. Atmel has also benefited from the touchscreen capabilities of Microsoft's Windows 8, with its controllers being used in over 70 Windows 8 devices. Atmel's touch sensors have also been chosen by Samsung for use in its Galaxy S4 and the Galaxy S4 Mini.
Benefiting from Apple and Samsung
With 65% of its sales related to mobile devices, TriQuint Semiconductor (UNKNOWN: TQNT.DL ) has gained its share of the smartphone market by manufacturing radio frequency devices for Apple's iPhone as well as Samsung's Galaxy S series. Apple alone accounts for more than 25% of TriQuint's revenue, and recently, TriQuint shares have benefited from Apple's strong sales of the new iPhone 5c and 5s. TriQuint has also had great success cracking the very large Chinese cell phone market by making deals with Chinese manufacturers.
The market outside the U.S.
RF Micro Devices (UNKNOWN: RFMD.DL ) makes radio frequency components for a wide variety of products including mobile, Bluetooth, and GPS devices. While its market casts a wide net, almost 80% of its total revenue comes from the cell phone market, particularly in 3G and 4G devices. Like TriQuint, RF Micro Devices supplies chips to Samsung and Apple, and its shares have seen a boost from the success of Apple's new iPhones, too. However, Nokia is a much bigger customer for RF Micro Devices, making it less dependent on Apple than its competitors. Additionally, RF Micro Devices has a strong overseas business, with China and Taiwan accounting for 55% of its total revenues.
Atmel missed consensus on its July 31 earnings call, reporting second quarter income of $0.06 per share versus consensus of $0.05. However, Atmel's stock price has made a steady climb over the last twelve months, and it is currently trading within a point of its 52-week high. With an impressive client list, and with its gross margins rising to 42.5% from 39%the prior quarter, Atmel seems to be making big strides.
TriQuint has struggled as well, missing estimates and reporting losses, but shares of TriQuint are up more than 60% since the start of the year. Furthermore, CEO Ralph Quinsey has stated that he expects third quarter revenue to jump 30%. "I believe Q3 is the beginning of a stronger period of performance for TriQuint," Quinsey said in a written statement. Much of TriQuint's market success has come from its products used in 3G and LTE smartphones, but recently, the company announced that its new products will meet stringent 4G performance requirements worldwide.
While RF Micro Devices saw losses last year as well, it had a gross margin of 32% at the end of the first quarter of this year, and it has ample cash on hand. On its July 23 earnings call, RF Micro Devices reported that Q1 revenues had beat analysts' estimates, giving investors earnings of $0.09 a share. Analysts had expected $0.07 a share. For the current quarter, the company expects an EPS in the range of $0.10 to $0.11.
While any investment in the cell phone market involves some cyclical risk, diversifying into areas outside of handset makers can help minimize your risk while allowing you to benefit from the industry's triumphs. It can also shield you from inevitable slumps in the overall industry. Additionally, companies like RF Micro Devices have a wide range of clients outside of smartphone makers, which can give you some extra safety from the ups and downs of the cell phone market.
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