Earlier this month, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) finally confirmed it will bring OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays to its iPhone line starting with the iPhone X. Though astute investors have anticipated the move for years, this was still seen as a massive coup for the OLED industry considering Apple has favored LCD displays since debuting the original iPhone a decade ago.
As a happy consequence, shares of OLED technologist Universal Display (NASDAQ:OLED) -- which sells OLED materials and licenses its OLED-centric patent portfolio to the world's leading display manufacturers -- surged to a fresh all-time high on the news. All told, Universal Display stock has climbed more than 140% so far in 2017.
But while Apple's growing embrace of OLED technology is a massive win for Universal Display's penetration of the smartphone market, I think investors should be even more excited for the impending ramp of another industry: OLED lighting.
The OLED lighting market is just getting started
To be fair, I argued back in 2014 that OLED lights could revolutionize the global lighting market, helped the fact that they're highly efficient, cool to the touch, and distribute beautiful, even light. OLED light panels can also be made ultra-thin, flexible, and semi-transparent, enabling a wide variety of form factors as pictured above.
But I also warned at the time that OLED lights were incredibly expensive, as the industry was "still in its very early stages with no established mass production infrastructure."
However, according to a report from UBI Research released earlier this week, that's all about to change. More specifically, UBI notes that LG Display -- which is already Universal Display's second-largest customer behind Samsung Display -- will start mass production of OLED light panels at its Gen5 OLED line later this month. As a result, the price of a 100mm x 100mm OLED light panel is expected to drop below $10, making it a competitive alternative to today's traditional LED lighting products across a variety of industries, including automotive, display lighting, and indoor lighting.
Breaking it down
The bottom line? As production and adoption increase, and as prices continue to fall, UBI projects that the OLED lighting panel market will grow at a compound annual rate of 85% between 2017 and 2025. Starting from its minuscule base today, that means OLED lighting should turn into an estimated $1.9 billion market by 2021 and a $5.8 billion market by 2025.
Better yet, that's still a small fraction of the global LED lighting market, which is expected to grow at a still-healthy compound annual rate of 14% over the same period to roughly $70 billion.
LG Display is expected to command a roughly 50% share of that market by 2020, down from around 70% this year as other OLED light panel makers follow suit. But Universal Display investors should keep in mind that their company is already partnering with other leading OLED light producers including Japan-based Sumitomo Chemical, Konica Minolta, Germany's OSRAM, Acuity Brands, and OLEDWorks (which acquired Philips' OLED lighting division in late 2015).
In the end, the one clear winner of this fast-growing market is Universal Display. So even with Universal Display stock trading near all-time highs following the Apple news, I still think long-term investors would do well to continue holding on.
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