The growth of mobile devices over PCs is an ongoing theme that will not likely change any time soon. Even two product refreshes in the recent past were expected by investors to reinvigorate demand for the PC. Ultrabooks were first thought to bring consumers choice and balance. When they were released, manufacturers could not offer ultrabooks at a low enough price.
The operating system refresh from Microsoft’s (MSFT) Windows 8 was launched late last year, along with the Surface RT tablet. Initial sales for both solutions appear to be weak.
When Intel (INTC) refreshes its lineup of chips, investors will be skeptical with its importance in stimulating PC sales. Pundits cite the ability to do actual work on a PC as a reason that the sector will remain healthy. The problem for investors is that consumers are more willing to refresh their “consumption devices” every 1-3 years, while being reluctant to upgrade their PC.
When Intel begins shipping their “Haswell” chip in June 2013, the fourth-generation core could be a non-event for the PC sector. The processor will be used to power ultrabooks and hybrid tablets. The main selling point for the refresh is a better battery life. The Intel Atom processor, once a very popular processor when netbooks had high demand, will also be refreshed. Code-named “Bay Trail,” the Atom processor will be a quad-core chip that offers double the performance.
Mobile processor makers are highly favored by investors, while Intel is being ignored. ARM Holdings (ARMH) is valued with a Price of Profitability of 54, while Qualcomm (QCOM) is valued at a POP of 16. Intel has a POP of just11.
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Similar to previous occasions, Intel is an out of favorite chip giant that is underappreciated by the market. Microsoft failed to generate strong sales for the underpowered RT despite heavy marketing, but there is hope. When the Surface Pro was released, sales for the first month were very promising. This suggests that the market for a fully functional mobile PC exists. A Surface Pro powered by Haswell, and having a battery life of longer than a work day would appeal to consumers.
Investors should also remember that Lenovo managed to grow market share despite the overall decline in PC sales. This means that Intel shares could be near a bottom, and that the negative returns over the last 6 months could reverse.
Investors who made strong gains in Qualcomm and ARM Holdings could book profits, and switch to Intel. Qualcomm was recently removed from Goldman Sachs’ buy list.
ARM Holdings may be a less compelling stock to sell. In February, the company reported Q4 earnings that showed a 21% increase in royalty revenue. The company also expects to continue to gain market share.
Written by Chris Lau