Positive sentiment is building around Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC). The stock has rallied this year and climbed 4% the day of its annual investor meeting, Nov. 20. Investors are clearly excited about what the chip company has to say about the current state of its business, as well as what the future holds. But there's reason to be skeptical as well, because some of what management said shouldn't be considered good news.
Meanwhile, one of Intel's peers in the chip industry, Qualcomm Incorporated (NASDAQ:QCOM), stands as a better long-term investment. While that might sound surprising -- Qualcomm has had its own fair share of bad news lately -- its long-term prospects are still better than Intel's because of Qualcomm's key advantage in a fundamental and major industry. Here's why Qualcomm is a better semiconductor stock to buy than Intel.
Intel's mixed messages
On Nov. 20, at Intel's annual investor meeting, management laid out its forecast for next year, which now calls for mid-single-digit revenue growth on a percentage basis. In addition, gross margin is expected to clock in at 62%, plus or minus two percentage points. These predictions pleased investors, as prior expectations weren't as optimistic. The average analyst estimate pegged Intel's 2015 revenue growth at 3%.
One key reason for Intel's upbeat forecast is that the company sees the personal computer market stabilizing into next year. Intel stated that global PC shipments will rise, particularly at the enterprise level, as businesses replace their older laptops and desktops. If so, Intel will benefit. The PC is critical to Intel's success. In fact, Intel's PC Client Group comprises 63% of its revenue. Separately, Intel raised its dividend by 6.7%, to $0.96 per share annualized.
But viewed differently, Intel's news isn't quite as good as it looks. First, along with its comments about PCs, Intel stated that going forward it has reorganized its structure to combine its mobile and PC units into a single division. While Intel management stated that the reason for the move was that technology between mobile devices and PCs was blending together, it seems the real motive was to help mask the poor performance in the mobile business. Intel's mobile business lost $1 billion last quarter. Intel promises to get its chips into as many as 40 million tablets this year. Although it's on track to meet that goal, it cost the company billions of dollars in subsidies.
As it pertains to the dividend, Intel's 6.7% raise is fairly modest, especially when compared with the dividend growth for many of Intel's technology peers. For example, Qualcomm raised its dividend by 20% earlier this year. Plus, it's worth noting that this is Intel's first dividend raise in two years. It was overdue for a dividend bump, and a 6.7% increase is hardly compensation for its lack of dividend raise over that time.
Qualcomm is underappreciated
I view Intel's growth prospects, both in terms of mobile devices and in terms of dividend growth, as simply trying to catch up to where Qualcomm is already. Qualcomm has a premier industry position in mobile devices, including smartphones. Its chipsets are used in a variety of different devices. Shipments of its 3G and multimode 3G/4G chipsets are soaring, particularly in China, where the 4G rollout is still in the early stages. In all, Qualcomm shipped 236 million MSM units last quarter, up 24% year over year. In fiscal 2014, Qualcomm set company records for revenue, adjusted earnings per share, device sales, and MSM shipments.
This situation has allowed Qualcomm to be a premier dividend growth stock for many years. Over the past five years, Qualcomm has increased its dividend by 19% compounded annually. Even when including Intel's recent dividend raise, its five-year dividend growth stands at just 8%, less than half of Qualcomm's dividend growth rate.
Qualcomm stock hasn't done much this year because it's grappling with a difficult situation in China. Qualcomm believes that certain licensees in China are under-reporting sales of licensed 3G and 4G devices. And, separately, Qualcomm recently announced that the FTC is investigating its business practices in patent licensing. Qualcomm warned investors of the possibility for financial penalties, but it's unlikely Qualcomm's long-term growth story will be permanently thrown off track. These investigations look like a short-term bump in the road.
Intel's investor day pleased the market, but its core struggles in mobile, which has a much brighter future than PCs, remain. By comparison, Qualcomm's vastly superior position in mobile means its earnings and dividends are likely to grow much faster than Intel's. For these reasons, Qualcomm stock is the better pick.