The semiconductor industry is ripe with attractive stocks for income investors, an interesting development as this has not always been the case. Years ago, chip stocks rarely paid dividends, as these higher-growth technology companies widely preferred to reinvest their cash flow to grow their businesses. Now that the semiconductor industry has reached a more mature stage, many chip manufacturers have embraced dividends to keep their shareholders happy.
Here are three of the biggest dividend payers in the semiconductor space and how they appeal to different investors.
Best pick for dividends right now
For investors looking to maximize their income right this moment, Intel(NASDAQ:INTC) stands out as a top pick in semiconductors. In fact, Intel is the biggest chip company in the world, and perhaps not surprisingly, pays the highest dividend in the industry. With an annual payout of $0.96 per share, Intel's 3% yield is significantly above its peer group. This is due to the fact Intel distributes more of its free cash flow than most of its competitors.
For instance, Intel generated $10.3 billion of free cash flow last year and paid $4.4 billion of dividends. That represents a 42% free cash flow payout ratio. The trade-off is that Intel is not growing very quickly, which could make it harder for the company to increase its dividend going forward. Its core business remains tied to personal computers, an underperforming category that still makes up 62% of the top line. Intel PC revenue last year was below its 2012 levels, weighing down company-wide performance even though revenue in its data center segment soared 18%.
Additionally, Intel's mobile ambitions are very costly. Intel lost $4.2 billion in mobile last year, up 35% from a $3.1 billion loss in 2013. That explains why, up until a 6% dividend raise in February, the company had gone more than two years since its last payout increase. Until Intel makes inroads into some higher-growth business areas, it is likely to continue its cautious pace of dividend growth.
Best picks for future dividends
While the other semiconductor candidates might not match Intel's high yield, what they can offer in exchange is higher payout growth. These companies include Qualcomm(NASDAQ:QCOM) and Texas Instruments(NASDAQ:TXN).
Qualcomm yields a respectable 2.9%, and the company will likely cut its small deficit to Intel in short order. While Intel has had a great deal of trouble entering mobile, Qualcomm is already there and dominates the market.
To be sure, Qualcomm is seeing pressure this year as well. It lost a key customer, which most analysts believe is Samsung and its Galaxy S6 device. As a result, Qualcomm expects revenue to only grow 2% at the high end of management's full-year guidance. However, Qualcomm still expects total device sales to rise 5% to 13% this year. In 2014, the company brought in $7.7 billion of free cash flow and paid just $2.5 billion in dividends for a very comfortable 33% free cash flow payout ratio.
Texas Instruments offers a 2.5% dividend yield, the lowest of the three companies. The company is growing at a nice clip, thanks largely to its product focus. Its two core markets are analog and embedded processing. A few years ago, management decided to exit weaker businesses such as mobile and instead greatly narrowed the company's operations.
Analog and embedded processing now represent more than 80% of the top line. This strategy paid off handsomely -- according to data from S&P Capital IQ, Texas Instruments has grown revenue by 4.6% compounded annually over the past five years, while earnings logged nearly 14% growth over the same period.
Because of their higher growth, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments pass along greater dividend increases each year to investors. Qualcomm's five-year average dividend growth rate clocks in at 20%. For its part, Texas Instruments grew its dividend by 23% compounded annually over the past five years with 2014 marking its 11th year of growing payouts.
Buy which one? It depends
Intel, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments share similar business models, but their industry focuses, and consequently dividend strategies, are different. Intel is the highest-yielding stock of the three, but even its payout premium is running thin. For investors with longer time horizons, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments are better picks with much stronger prospects for future dividend growth.