As 2013 draws to a close, investors are keeping close tabs on the critical holiday shopping season for cues on how much consumers plan to purchase. Particularly in the consumer technology space, the end of the calendar year represents a crucial time. With Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the rearview mirror, it appears Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) may have a bright holiday season in store for its investors.
Will consumers stock up on Apple devices for the holidays?
A study by analytics company InfoScout revealed that Apple's 16-gigabyte iPad Air was the top device sold at both Wal-Mart and Target on Black Friday. And, two additional Apple iPads were the second and third-highest selling devices at Target. In a separate bit of encouraging news, a survey conducted by the Consumer Electronics Association found that tablets were the most-frequently purchased consumer electronics item on Black Friday.
This would clearly be good news for Apple, which finally has a refreshed product portfolio to offer consumers for a holiday shopping season. Apple's iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c, along with the new iPad Air, represent key catalysts. Apple has struggled to continue to grow as its stable of devices grew stale. In its recently concluded fiscal year, revenue grew 9% but earnings per share fell 10% due to rising costs. That being said, it's still noteworthy that Apple can remain so incredibly profitable even without the benefit of a refreshed product lineup.
The fact that tablets and smartphones are flying off shelves this holiday shopping season is great news not just for Apple, but for chipmaker Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) as well. Qualcomm was already performing solidly so far this year, and a strong holiday season would only be icing on the cake. The company recently concluded its 2013 fiscal year, which proved to be a great one. Revenue and earnings per share rose 30% and 11% versus fiscal 2012. Going forward, growth is expected to continue as the company benefits from strong industry tailwinds. Management expectations are for double-digit compound annual growth in revenues and earnings per share over the next five years.
Not all consumer tech companies are created equal
While Apple and Qualcomm continue to rack up growth from the surge in popularity of mobile devices and tablets, semiconductor giant Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) is struggling to keep its head above water. That's because the personal computer market, where Intel derives the bulk of its business, is in bad shape. Global PC shipments are falling as consumers increasingly turn away from them to instead opt for smartphones and tablets. In fact, Market research firm IDC recently stated that worldwide PC shipments should fall 10% this year, which would represent the biggest drop on record. This was a worse report that IDC's own previous projection, which called for a slightly milder 9.7% decline.
Crumbling PC shipments are the major reason behind Intel's struggles the past couple of years, and still represent a stiff headwind as 2013 draws to a close. Consider that Intel has seen revenue and earnings per share drop 2.5% and 17%, respectively, over the first nine months of 2013.
And, things aren't expected to improve next year. At Intel's recent investor meeting, Chief Executive Officer Brian Krzanich stated that revenue and gross margins would be flat next year. This is clearly a disappointment to investors who were hoping any of the company's growth initiatives would gain traction.
The holidays may not be bright for all tech stocks
This holiday season is a crucial time for consumer-oriented technology companies. Thankfully, the holiday shopping period figures to be promising for Apple and Qualcomm, which means their upcoming quarters may be exceptionally strong.
For what it's worth, Intel continues to provide a hefty 3.7% yield that makes it a high-yielder, especially for technology stocks. Intel's dividend is significantly higher than the yield on the broader market, which likely makes it attractive to income investors despite its underlying issues. But for investors willing to sacrifice yield in exchange for brighter futures, give preference to Apple and Qualcomm.
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