Semiconductor stocks have had a great year with the industry up double digits so far in 2017. With billions of devices expected to be put into use in the years ahead, growth for chip makers could continue. Here's what investors need to know.


Data by YCharts.

Old tech that's pushing the envelope

Since their invention midway through the last century, microchips have been at the heart of technological growth. Today, the small devices are the building blocks for almost everything electrical. While historically associated with computers, semiconductors are also a part of leading technology like artificial intelligence, self-driving vehicles, and robotics.

Advances in semiconductor tech have led to them being an integral part of virtually every other industry as well, from computing and communications to healthcare and manufacturing. According to a report from Semiconductor Industry Association, an industry research and promotion group in the U.S., semiconductors have been by far the fastest growing manufacturing segment since 1987.

That growth is expected to continue, with technology research company Gartner (NYSE:IT) saying that industry revenues will increase 12% in 2017. Those trends are anticipated to have momentum into 2018, and global demand is only expected to climb over the long term. With the U.S. being the leading producer of microchips, the industry should be a part of any long-term investor's portfolio.

An easy place to start

Selecting an investment in a chipmaker can be difficult as there are dozens of manufacturers and related support companies in the U.S. For those who don't want to do the homework, there are a few ETFs that offer broad exposure to the whole U.S. industry.


Total Assets

Annual Fee

Fund Composition

iShares PHLX Semiconductor ETF (NASDAQ:SOXX)

$1.26 billion


30 stocks, almost all U.S.-based companies, favoring the largest companies.

VanEck Vectors Semiconductor ETF (NASDAQ:SMH)

$823.4 million


Similar to above. 26 stocks weighted by size mostly based in the U.S.

SPDR S&P Semiconductor ETF (NYSEMKT:XSD)

$326.1 million


35 equally weighted stocks that span large to small companies in the U.S. chip industry.

Chart by author. Data source: iShares, VanEck, and State Street Global Advisors.

SOXX Chart

Data by YCharts.

Which ETF is right for you? You'll notice that over time, all three have pretty similar performance. The iShares and VanEck funds especially have a lot of overlap in their portfolio holdings. Favoring larger companies, both of those funds should have smaller swings up and down than the SPDR fund. SPDR's heavier inclusion of smaller companies can give the fund more upside in a bull market, but also more downside if the industry takes a turn for the worse.

An artists depiction of many devices, like phones, microscopes, cameras, and watches, that contain an electrical component.

Image source: Getty.

Whittling down the playing field

For those who want to hand pick individual stocks, semiconductor companies can be broken down into several categories: broad line, integrated circuits, specialized, equipment & materials, and memory chips.

Some of the biggest and most recognized names are broad line chipmakers, those that produce semis for a wide range of industry and final use. Names include the world's largest chipmaker Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), as well as smaller players like Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ:AMD), Cypress Semiconductor (NASDAQ:CY), and ON Semiconductor (NASDAQ:ON).

The other categories are an array of manufacturers that either focus on a particular type of chip (like memory) or a particular process in the production of chips. Here are a few to start doing some research on.


Market Cap

Price-to-Earnings (TTM)

Dividend Yield

What the company does

Broad Line


$185 billion



The world's largest chip manufacturer.

Texas Instruments (NASDAQ:TXN)

$90 billion



Diversified maker of chips.

Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ:AMD)

$13 billion



Diversified maker of chips.

Integrated Circuits

Analog Devices (NASDAQ:ADI)

$32 billion



Makes signal processing integrated circuits for a variety of industries.

Skyworks Solutions (NASDAQ:SWKS)

$19 billion



Signal processing circuits for mobile connectivity.



$109 billion



Graphics-processing technology for a wide array of industries.

Equipment and Materials

Applied Materials (NASDAQ:AMAT)

$55 billion



Equipment, service, and software for the semi industry.

Lam Research (NASDAQ:LRCX)

$30 billion



Manufactures and services equipment for the industry.


Micron Technology (NASDAQ:MU)

$44 billion



Primarily known for digital memory chips.

Chart by author. Data source: Yahoo! Finance.

Some caution is needed

For investors looking to minimize volatility, broad line semiconductor companies are a good start. These manufacturers are diversified and often pay out the highest dividends in the industry. The other sub-industries can be a bit more up-and-down as the companies are less diversified, but the trade-off is they could offer some of the biggest growth potential over the long-term.

Some caution on semi stocks, though, is that they are cyclical in nature. That means the industry can have periods where supply and demand swings wildly, causing share prices to be quite the roller coaster ride. For example, Gartner sees supply outpacing demand for memory chips in 2019, which has the potential to send stocks in that realm south.

However, the semiconductor industry is still growing and is at the forefront of technological innovation. Whichever route you go, these stocks have the potential to pay off big with some patience and diversification across at least a few of them.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.