Micron Technology (NASDAQ:MU) shares have soared 167% in the last year and currently sit near multi-year highs. Peer SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK) has also soared higher, as pricing for memory chips DRAM and NAND, along with other recent catalysts, point to a bullish future. However, catalysts and partnerships involving big tech names like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) have gone unnoticed, and combined with Micron's outlook, its bright days might just be getting started.
A look at Micron's business
Micron is a worldwide semiconductor company that develops memory technologies, creating NAND and DRAM devices. SanDisk also operates in this space, but is more diversified with other products, thus making Micron a pure play on NAND and DRAM pricing and demand, which is why it has soared so high in the last year.
Discussions of NAND and DRAM likely sound like a foreign language to many, so for the sake of keeping it simple, just remember that NAND is used in smartphones and tablets, while DRAM is found in PCs. Over the last year, Micron has made efforts to move away from DRAM and focus on NAND, as the growth opportunities are much larger, and NAND technology has the ability to be manufactured as a part of solid-state drives, or SSDs.
In the past, SSDs were considered a low-margin business, but with the addition of flash memory, Micron has found a way to use NAND technology to create high-margin SSD products, which is a breakthrough in the industry.
Trading higher for good reason
In the company's most-recent quarter, it saw no bit growth in DRAM, but 35% bit growth in NAND sales. The company also saw a significant decline in costs and guided for double-digit bit growth in the coming quarter. With costs declining and its customers using more "bit," Micron saw its fundamentals soar in its fiscal second quarter.
Specifically, its revenue was up 98%, year over year, to $4.1 billion, and its operating income of $869 million compared favorably to a loss of $23 million in the year prior. Micron has traded higher for good reason. But will it continue to trade higher?
2 catalysts that people forget
In assessing Micron's fundamentals and the demand for DRAM, investors often forget its rather substantial partnership with Intel. In the partnership, Micron supplies NAND memory for an undisclosed amount per unit that is then made into SSD units.
This is a growth engine for Intel, with the industry growing 22%, quarter over quarter, to start the year. Intel's market share of SSD -- a new segment for the company -- has risen to 6.5%, and many believe it will be a major piece of its business in the next few years. This new way of creating high-margin SSDs from NAND will likely earn Micron additional partnerships in the future. Not to mention, Micron continues to create new NAND products, including for 3D memory, which could spark even more growth and partnerships.
Next, Micron acquired the near-bankrupt Japanese DRAM maker Elpida Memory in 2013 for $2.5 billion; Micron also gained a 24% share of Rexchip in the deal, which consequently gave it a near-90% stake in the company. While this acquisition may appear to conflict with the company's goal to focus on NAND, the acquisition gave Micron a 50% increase in manufacturing capacity, a multi-billion-a-year business that is growing, as well as a partnership with Apple.
That last benefit of the acquisition is important. Elpida is the largest chip supplier to Apple, but now with Micron innovating NAND products for smartphones and tablets, it is possible that the acquisition of Elpida could lead to a larger deal with Apple. It would make sense, cutting costs for Apple by using one supplier from a single facility and creating more revenue for Micron. This is likely possible, as Micron supplies Intel with NAND that is then used in SSDs, so with SSDs being needed in iPhones, perhaps Apple sees the same value in Micron. At the very least, it gives Micron the connection in what many believe is an inevitable deal.
With all things considered, Micron has a strong existing business and two partnerships with technology giants that could lead to greater things. However, aside from its large 12-month return and the fundamental benefits of its partnerships, Micron is not a stock that's priced exceedingly high.
On Monday, shares traded higher by another 5% after the firm Drexel Hamilton increased its price target from $30 to $50. This is a company whose gross margin guidance continues to rise, and it's expected to grow revenue by 75% this year.
In comparison, SanDisk is expected to grow just 8%, yet it trades at 2.8 times expected 2014 sales, versus a 1.68 multiple for Micron. Furthermore, Micron's operating margin of 15.9% versus SanDisk's 28.7% implies that Micron has further room to improve in its operating efficiency.
Overall, Micron does look like a cheap stock, and given its impressive growth and partnership possibilities, large future gains appear highly likely.
Brian Nichols owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Intel. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.