3 Things to Loathe About ARM Holdings

LONDON -- There are things to love and loathe about most companies. Today, I'm going to tell you about three things to loathe about ARM Holdings  (LSE: ARM  ) (NASDAQ: ARMH  ) .

I'll also be asking whether these negative factors make this FTSE 100 technology titan a poor investment today.

East exit
ARM was floated on the London stock exchange in 1998. In the 15 years since flotation, the company has grown spectacularly to become the world's leading designer of low-powered microchips found in smartphones and other mobile devices. Today, ARM is a member of the FTSE 100 and has a market valuation of over 14 billion pounds.

The architect of ARM's success has been Warren East, chief operating officer at the time the company joined the stock market, and chief executive since 2001. However, East will be retiring on 1 July. He'll be a hard act to follow.

Eye-watering earnings rating
ARM is proving an exception to the famous dictum of renowned small-cap growth investor Jim Slater. Slater famously said that "elephants don't gallop," meaning big companies can't grow as fast as their smaller brethren.

ARM's earnings have grown at a rip-roaring rate. Analysts see no let-up in the pace for the immediate future and are forecasting 37% growth for 2013. However, at a share price of 977 pence, investors are paying an eye-watering 48 times earnings for that growth -- three times the multiple of the wider market.

Intel in pursuit
U.S. giant Intel is going after ARM with a vengeance. Intel's Atom core chips had barely advanced in five years, but the company has just unveiled its new Silvermont architecture, which it claims will give three times the performance and five times less power consumption than existing Atom core chips.

Tech-savvy commentators reckon that with those specifications Intel can provide real competition to ARM in the smartphone and tablet markets that are currently dominated by chips based on the latter's architecture.

A poor investment?
ARM is undoubtedly a quality business, and time and again the company has beaten analysts' earnings forecasts. East's retirement doesn't look likely to derail the business: His successor is an ARM veteran and East has been glowing in his praise of the new chief executive.

The recent developments by Intel look more of a challenge to ARM, at least judging by what the tech experts are saying. However, even without Intel in pursuit, I could never, as a value-orientated investor, bring myself to pay 48 times earnings for any company.

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  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 11:49 PM, Gainster wrote:

    I think you forgot to mention that you were talking about the future P/E ratio and not the trailing P/E that is about 80, down from around 90.

    Intel is already gaining future market shares with Lenovo K900, Samsung Tab 3, Orange San Diego and others, that are using the "old" architecture. Not to mention what they will gain from the Tizen platform or their cooperation with Baidu. This capturing of market shares will only accelerate when the much more efficient and powerful Silvermont architecture hits the market. And they'll maintain or increase their lead next year with the introduction of the 14 nm Airmont.

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