After posting massive gains between 2009 and 2014, shares of Texas Instruments (TXN 0.99%) squeezed out an anemic 2.5% increase in 2015. Let's discuss three bearish concerns which have been weighing down this chipmaker, and whether or not they could cause its stock to stumble this year.
1. Exposure to Apple
TI produces IC chips, display drivers, and other components for Apple's (AAPL -0.23%) iOS devices. A Chipworks teardown revealed that TI provided four chips for the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. As a result, TI frequently trades in tandem with other Apple suppliers.
When several of those suppliers slashed their sales forecasts ahead of Apple's first quarter earnings, TI stock also slid on concerns about the iPhone. Apple confirmed those fears on Jan. 26, reporting that iPhone shipments only grew 0.4% annually during the first quarter, and that its second quarter sales could fall up to 14%.
That forecast sounds bleak, but TI claims that Apple only accounted for 11% of its revenue in 2015. For the current quarter, RBC Capital analyst Amit Daryanani expects TI's "Apple-centric revenue" to fall about 30% annually, but he believes that TI can offset that weakness with the "cost containment and mix" of its other businesses. Analysts expect TI's sales to fall just 5% annually for the current quarter, which compares favorably to Apple's projected declines.
2. Industrial concerns
31% of TI's revenue came from the industrial sector in 2015. Unfortunately, the industrials sector has fared poorly over the past year due to macroeconomic problems worldwide. Those concerns caused some bears to claim that an industrial slowdown could throttle global demand for TI's chips.
During TI's fourth quarter conference call, as transcribed by Thomson Reuters, TI VP Dave Pahl addressed those concerns. Pahl noted that when TI talked about the industrial market, it was referring to something more "broad and different" than what a typical investor would follow. He noted that TI's industrial segment was well-diversified across 14 sectors, including factory automation, healthcare, building automation, smart grids, point of sale systems, and lighting.
CFO Kevin March noted that industrial revenue was "about even for the year" -- suggesting that growth in some industrial sectors offset losses in others. March also stated that TI was increasing the weight of its automotive business, which generated 15% of its 2015 sales, to complement its industrial business. Those two segments, he noted, would likely post higher overall margins and stickier revenue "over time."
3. Wireless weakness
TI pulled off a tough balancing act with the industrial business, but revenue from communications equipment, which accounted for 13% of its sales, fell 20% in 2015. TI attributed most of that decline to a 30% drop in wireless infrastructure sales.
That slowdown can be attributed to telecom giants spending less money to expand their mobile networks. Instead, the telcos are allocating more money toward inorganic growth to generate fresh streams of revenue. For example, AT&T spent $49 billion to buy DirecTV and expand its pay TV business last year. Verizon bought AOL for more than $4 billion to enter the online advertising market.
The good news for TI is that these declines are cyclical. Once the major telcos start upgrading their towers for 5G connections over the next few years, sales growth in that segment should return.
Will Texas Instruments fall in 2016?
Texas Instruments' business certainly has a few soft spots, but investors shouldn't overlook its strengths. Last quarter, TI's gross margin hit a record high of 58.5%, which was partially attributed to the company's new 300mm analog production capabilities. TI recently dropped its bid for industry peer Maxim, but that doesn't rule out the possibility of other mergers. If TI grows inorganically, it can diversify its portfolio and expand its margins with economies of scale.
TI stock also isn't pricey at 18 times earnings, which compares favorably to the industry average of 20 for broadline semiconductor companies. TI's upside potential this year might be limited by the aforementioned concerns, but its valuation and 2.9% dividend should also limit its downside potential.