Semiconductor veteran Texas Instruments (TXN 0.96%) faces off against Dutch competitor NXP Semiconductors (NXPI 1.63%) in several key markets. These are two of the biggest names in automotive and industrial computing, and both companies play important parts in the Internet of Things segment.

But which of these stocks is the better buy today? Let's have a look.

Two hands giving thumbs-up and thumbs-down signs in front of an uncut silicon wafer.

Image source: Getty Images.

By the numbers

TI is the larger company here, looking back at $15.8 billion of trailing revenues. NXP's total sales over the last four quarters stopped at $9.5 billion. The Texan titan is also much more profitable, with an adjusted net margin of 37% versus NXP's slimmer 17% bottom-line margin.

Turning to their market data instead, TI boasts a market cap three times NXP's size. Both stocks have been struggling lately, as TI showed a 9% negative return over the last 52 weeks and NXP took a 27% haircut over the same period.

Digging deeper

The numbers never tell the whole story, of course.

NXP's stock took a big hit last year when the company's long-awaited merger with Qualcomm (QCOM 4.26%) fell apart at the goal line. American and European regulators had given the deal every required blessing, but their Chinese counterparts kept dragging their feet as Chinese-American trade relations turned tense. Qualcomm's $44 billion bid for NXP didn't fail on its own merits but fell victim to political games played at the highest level.

Texas Instruments' stock felt the pinch from the same international trade troubles, just in a less direct way. The company's top-line sales grew just 5.5% in fiscal year 2018 after a more impressive 12% gain in 2017. In the fourth-quarter earnings call, Texas Instruments CFO Rafael Lizardi held out Chinese trade tensions as the largest contributor to TI's slow sales:

"The one thing that we did see was distributors did get more cautious on their inventory late in the quarter, as I mentioned in the prepared remarks," Lizardi said. "And I think that kind of coupled with the signs of weakness that we saw in China has really led us to the belief that that's part of the caution that we're seeing from a trade tensions standpoint."

The upshot: Take advantage of deep discounts on NXP shares

So the Chinese-American trade war weighed heavily on both TI and NXP last year, with one important difference. The knee-jerk market reaction to NXP's canceled merger was far stronger than the milder pain TI's investors felt from slower sales trends.

At this point, you can buy Texas Instruments shares for the eminently reasonable price of 18 times trailing earnings or 29 times free cash flows. At the same time, you can pick up NXP's stock from Wall Street's bargain bin, where it trades at 15 times trailing earnings, 10 times forward estimates, and 7 times trailing cash flows.

There is nothing wrong with owning Texas Instruments stock under the current circumstances, as the company is sure to recover fully from the Chinese inconvenience over the next couple of years. But NXP is on fire sale. Qualcomm was prepared to pay $44 billion for the company in order to boost its automotive computing, industrial, and Internet of Things operations. The stock is trading 32% below that suggested price today even though the value of its current and future business hasn't decreased at all.

TI can wait. This is simply a great time to pick up shares in NXP.

Check out the latest Texas Instruments and NXP Semiconductors earnings call transcripts.