The PC market -- which has been overshadowed by tablets and smartphones over the past few years -- isn't a high-growth one. Research firm Gartner expects worldwide PC shipments to edge up less than 1% annually in 2015.
However, Gartner also expects PC shipments to bounce back nearly 4% in 2016, thanks to the upcoming launch of Microsoft's Windows 10 and newer processors. Therefore, contrarian investors might want to check out three top stocks that could benefit from renewed interest in the sector.
Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) is the 800-pound gorilla in PC microprocessors. Its chips power nearly all servers, over 90% of notebooks, and more than 80% of desktops worldwide, according to research firm IDC. In 2014, revenue at its PC and Data Center businesses, which together accounted for 88% of its top line, respectively rose 4% and 18% annually.
Intel will likely keep dominating the server and PC markets because its chips remain the most advanced on the market. Intel's foundry business -- one of the four remaining foundries in the world -- enables it to launch smaller and more power-efficient designs than its "fabless" rivals. Last year, Intel was the first chipmaker to launch fanless 14nm chips, which power ultrathin devices like Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) new MacBook.
However, two things could weigh Intel down in the near term. Last month, it slashed its first-quarter revenue guidance by nearly $1 billion, citing weak demand for business desktop upgrades. Starting this year, Intel will also combine its mobile business, which lost $4.2 billion in 2014, with its PC unit. That added weight could distort year-over-year comparisons.
Although Intel has rallied nearly 20% over the past 12 months, it still trades at a reasonable 13.5 times trailing earnings, compared to the S&P 500's P/E of 20.
A decade ago, Chinese PC maker Lenovo (NASDAQOTH:LNVGY) acquired IBM's PC division. Today, Lenovo is the largest PC maker in the world, claiming 20% of the worldwide market at the end of 2014, according to IDC.
In response to the rise of tablets, Lenovo gradually modified its Windows laptops into convertible devices that could be folded backwards into tablets. It expanded into Android tablets and smartphones as rival Hewlett-Packard struggled with leadership changes, a failed webOS tablet, and its disastrous acquisition of Autonomy.
Last year, Lenovo also acquired IBM's low-end server business and Google's Motorola Mobility handset business. The Motorola acquisition made Lenovo the third largest smartphone maker in the world, with a 6.5% market share at the end of 2014, according to IDC.
Last quarter, Lenovo's revenue surged 31% year over year, but its diluted EPS fell 9%. That earnings decline was mainly caused by the IBM and Motorola acquisitions. By comparison, HP's revenue fell 5% year over year and its diluted EPS slipped 1% in its most recent quarter.
Lenovo's ADR shares have climbed nearly 30% over the past 12 months. Its trailing P/E of 18 makes it pricier than HP, which trades at just 12 times trailing GAAP earnings, but Lenovo has plenty of ways to grow its top and bottom lines in the near future.
Most Apple investors mainly focus on iPhone sales, which accounted for 69% of Apple's top line last quarter. However, rising Mac sales also make Apple a solid play on the PC market.
Last quarter, Apple's Mac revenue accounted for 9% of Apple's top line. Revenue rose 9% year over year as unit sales improved 14%. Those gains are significant, because they could eventually help diversify Apple's top line away from the iPhone.
IDC reports that Apple's global market share in PCs climbed from 5.8% to 7.1% between the fourth quarters of 2013 and 2014, making it the fifth largest PC vendor in the world after Lenovo, HP, Dell, and Acer. Out of those five vendors, Apple reported the highest year-over-year shipment growth. In the U.S., Apple controls 12.2% of the PC market, ranking third behind HP and Dell.
Apple enjoys two key strengths in the PC market: high-end appeal and a closed-off ecosystem. The former helps it sell Macs at higher margins than Windows-based PCs. The latter shields it from Windows-based rivals, since only Apple PCs can run OS X. Those two qualities also shield its iPhones from Android rivals.
The long-term outlook
Intel, Lenovo, and Apple are all solid investments in the PC market. Intel manufactures the most popular PC processors, Lenovo is the market leader in laptops and desktops, and Apple is the fastest-growing PC manufacturer. Therefore, all three companies should benefit as the PC market recovers its footing in 2016 and beyond.
Leo Sun owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Gartner, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), and Intel. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), and International Business Machines. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.