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It has been a phenomenal year for chipmaker Micron Technology (NASDAQ: MU ) . Shares are up close to 240% after a disappointing 2012, as favorable industry trends and key clients such as Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) have led to astronomical revenue and earnings growth.
But, if you thought that you've missed the gravy train, think again. Micron has received some glowing endorsements of late. Last month, David Einhorn's Greenlight Capital reportedly revealed a long position in Micron, while recent reports suggest that DRAM pricing is expected to increase further in 2014. As such, Micron could still turn out to be a good bet for the New Year, despite its solid run this year, just like last time.
In a good position for 2014
Driven by the acquisitions of Elpida and Rexchip, Micron has been able to consolidate its position in the DRAM industry, apart from landing a lucrative customer in the form of Apple. Post the Elpida and Rexchip acquisitions, Micron's share of the mobile DRAM industry has increased to 23%, according to DRAMeXchange, putting it in third place after Samsung and SK Hynix. In addition, Micron now commands almost 29% of the PC-DRAM market.
These developments place Micron in an advantageous situation, as Digitimes Research expects rapid growth in mobile DRAM demand going forward. In fact, in the current quarter, Digitimes Research is expecting a 70% year-over-year rise in mobile DRAM.Micron also expects strong DRAM demand going forward, while supply is expected to grow at a slower rate.
A fire at SK Hynix has pushed up DRAM prices as supply has been curtailed. Hynix now plans to cut its NAND flash production to bring DRAM production up to speed. But, by the time it restores production, Micron might have already gained some business from Hynix. Micron shares had taken a hit in December when Bloomberg reported that SK Hynix was planning a new factory for DRAM memory chips. But then, this factory won't come into operation until next year, which is why Micron investors need not worry.
Moreover, even excluding the impact of the Hynix fire, Micron is looking at a higher growth rate of demand than supply. For the next two years, Micron is expecting DRAM industry supply to grow in the mid-20% range, which compares favorably to the 30% annual growth rate in demand seen over the last five years.Going forward, DRAM demand is expected to be driven by smartphones, tablets, ultrabooks, and applications in servers and networking.
Some important catalysts
Micron has already bought its way into Apple's supplier list with Elpida's acquisition. The iPhone 5s carries Elpida's DRAM, and this should contribute to higher sales volume. Apple has finally caught up with the overwhelming demand for the flagship iPhone in the three months since it was launched. Late last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple supplier Foxconn ramped up its production to 500,000 units per day, its highest-ever run rate.
Canaccord Genuity analyst Michael Walkley expects Apple to sell 54 million iPhones in the quarter ending in December. This is, without a doubt, a lot of iPhones and should enable Micron to keep up its impressive revenue growth rate into the New Year.
Micron is expecting favorable trends in the NAND business as well, since shipments of solid-state drives have been growing rapidly. In fiscal 2013, Micron saw a 76% jump in its SSD business on the back of new customer wins.Looking ahead, prospects appear favorable in the NAND business, as the company's products are finding traction in data center and enterprise applications.
Additionally, Micron expects supply in the NAND industry to grow in the low-40% range next year, which is below the average annual demand growth of 43% seen over the last five years.Going forward, increasing sales of solid-state drives should continue to push up demand for NAND flash and lead to favorable pricing.
Still a good buy
What's more impressive is that, despite solid gains this year, Micron trades at a very reasonable valuation. It has a trailing P/E ratio of 19, which comes down to 9.4 on a forward P/E basis. Hence, Micron still looks like a good deal since it is not expensive and has been delivering rapid growth. Moreover, the prospects look strong as pricing fundamentals in the industry appear to be in its favor. As such, Micron looks set to continue its impressive run into the New Year as well.
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