The components space is one of the more intriguing ones within the tech industry. Some companies can be wildly profitable, more successful than the companies that make the devices their components power. Others, not so much -- a break with a favored client or the emergence of a rival technology can devastate their business.
Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) and Seagate (NASDAQ:STX) are two of the more interesting components stocks in the market today. It's not clear that they're great investments, but both definitely deserve to be on investors' watchlists.
Qualcomm has underperformed even as mobile continues to surge
Qualcomm components can be found in virtually every smartphone and many tablets sold globally. Qualcomm provides cellular basebands to Apple and many Android OEMs, as well as the Snapdragon mobile processors that power many Android devices.
Yet, despite the growth in the mobile market -- smartphone shipments rose more than 27% last year and are expected to grow another 11.3% in 2015, according to research company IDC -- Qualcomm has been a lousy stock to own. Over the last two years, Qualcomm stock has risen just 2.81%, while the broader S&P 500 has rallied more than 25%.
Qualcomm has struggled to collect license royalites on handsets made by Chinese vendors; more recently, Samsung -- which has long been among Qualcomm's largest customers -- has begun to move away. Its latest flagship phone, the Galaxy S6, uses its own processor rather than relying on Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon.
However, Qualcomm remains a fixture in the mobile industry, and its valuation makes it an interesting stock. Based on its earnings multiple, Qualcomm is near a five-year low: It's currently trading at less than 15 times earnings (both trailing and forward), and it yields near 3%. That makes it somewhat of a bargain given the growth in its industry. Further upside could come if other vendors that use its products (like China's Xiaomi) take a larger share of the market, or if it can win Samsung back.
Seagate offers an attractive yield, but its core market appears to be in decline
Seagate has little exposure to mobile devices. Instead, its business is tied to traditional PC and servers. Seagate is one of only three remaining hard drive manufacturers, with around 40% market share.
Given the ongoing decline in the market for PCs -- research company Gartner reported that worldwide PC shipments declined 5.2% last year -- it's not particularly surprising that Seagate has been an underperformer. Seagate shares have fallen more than 15% over the last 12 months, as the S&P 500 has rallied almost 5%.
Seagate's recent earnings reports have been disappointing, with soft sales and lower-than-expected guidance. Seagate's management has resorted to citing broader macro economic trends -- in January, Seagate's CEO blamed the European economy -- but there's no doubt Seagate's business is being challenged by a technological shift. A growing number of PCs are shipping with solid-state drives rather than hard drives, and even higher-capacity servers are turning toward solid state. Intel expects solid-state drives to reach 50% penetration by 2018. Seagate offers solid-state drives, but is a relative non-player in the industry: According to research company IHS, it had just 1% market share last year.
What makes Seagate interesting is that it's both absurdly cheap and high-yielding. Seagate currently yields around 4.30%, which is exceedingly rare among tech stocks, and it trades with a single-digit trailing price-to-earnings ratio. If the demand for traditional PCs bounces back, or solid-state adoption takes longer than anticipated, Seagate could reward shareholders.