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Why Qualcomm Inc. May Be the Best Way to Play Booming Smartphone Demand

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Growth in global smartphone demand is simply stunning. The world's consumers are utilizing smartphones at an unprecedented level, which made 2013 a record year for the industry. With this in mind, you'd think mobile device makers would have nothing but great things to say about their businesses.

And yet, the last quarter of 2013 was a disappointment for the two biggest smartphone vendors, Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF  ) and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) . Each company's recently released earnings report failed to meet sell-side analyst projections. As a result, while the global smartphone industry continues to grow, you may not be able to count on the device makers themselves to cash in on the ride. That's why chipmaker Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM  ) could be a fantastic back-door play on the booming smartphone industry.

Samsung and Apple fail to impress
The growth of the smartphone industry is simply stunning. Technology research firm IDC found that global smartphone shipments hit one billion last year, up 38% from 2012. It's clear that smartphones, in particular, have grown by leaps and bounds in just a few years. Consider that smartphones accounted for 55% of all mobile phone shipments in 2013, up from 40% the year prior.

Samsung managed to retain its position as the world's biggest-selling smartphone maker. It actually increased its market share by a full percentage point last year, to 31.3% according to IDC. And yet, Samsung suffered an 18% drop in profit in its flagship mobile device division in the most recent quarter. This was its first quarterly profit decline in more than two years, due squarely to weak smartphone sales.

Meanwhile, Apple's most recent quarter was solid on the surface. It generated record quarterly revenue of $57.6 billion, up nearly 6% versus the same quarter last year. Apple sold 51 million iPhones over the last three months, which set a new quarterly record. In all, Apple booked 5% growth in quarterly earnings per share.

Still, Apple's share of the smartphone market contracted last year according to IDC. Apple's market share fell 3.4 percentage points, from 18.7% in 2012 to 15.3%. Moreover, Apple noted weakness in the North American market, although the last quarter contained the holiday shopping season. And, the market was thoroughly unimpressed with Apple's most recent earnings, as its share price was hammered on the day of its quarterly announcement.

A better way to play smartphones?
By contrast, chipmaker Qualcomm had a host of great things to say in its own recent earnings report. Qualcomm is benefiting from the booming smartphone market, as it allows you to not have to choose which specific smartphone is currently in favor. That's because Qualcomm's chips are used across many popular smartphones, and the results speak for themselves.

Qualcomm grew revenue by 10% in its fiscal first quarter. Its operating cash flow soared 41% in the period, to $2.78 billion. Shipments of its MSM chip grew 17% year over year, to 213 million units.

Going forward, management paints an extremely optimistic picture of what the future holds for Qualcomm. Due to continued fundamental industry growth and Qualcomm's execution abilities, management expectations call for double-digit growth in both revenue and EPS over the next five years.

Closing thoughts
While Samsung and Apple struggle to fulfill analyst expectations and constantly battle for market share, Qualcomm is firing on all cylinders. That's because its chips are used in a variety of smartphone devices, meaning Qualcomm will grow right alongside with the overall industry.

The last quarter was a disappointment for both Samsung and Apple, although global smartphone shipments continue to soar. As a result, Qualcomm may be the best way to profit from the global smartphone boom.

Qualcomm is a great way to play smartphones, here's another
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Bob Ciura

Bob Ciura, MBA, has written for The Motley Fool since 2012. I focus on energy, consumer goods, and technology. I look for growth at a reasonable price, with a particular fondness for market-beating dividend yields.

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