Best stock investments
I really want to promise that this will be the last Virtual Reality article for the week… but every time I say that, some big publisher rolls out another huge campaign and I feel compelled to respond. But I hope it will be the last VR pitch we look at for at least a few days.
We’ve covered virtual reality-related teaser ads from most of the major publishers over the past couple months, and many of them are running over and over and over, inundating us with the promise of a fantastic world in which we all wear special goggles and never leave our homes… and, more importantly, that the consumer lust for virtual reality devices will wash over the economy like a tsunami, enriching those of us who invest in the right stocks.
And today it’s Investing Daily’s turn — Jim Pearce is promoting augmented reality and/or virtual reality goggles as “The Device Spreading 5-Times Faster Than The iPhone,” and he’d like to tell you all about it… after you pony up $1,495.
And to entice you to pry open your wallet and part from that much money for a subscription to his Breakthrough Technology Profits (which used to be called Smart Tech Investor), he has to make the investment sound pretty freakin’ exciting… here’s how he introduces it:
- “Google, Microsoft, and Facebook are scrambling to invest billions in this device
- Experts say its poised for a 15,000% sales surge over the next 48 months
- And a virtually unknown $9 company that owns the patents on its components is poised to skyrocket in 2016.”
It’s that last bullet point that really grabs our attention, of course — “skyrocket in 2016” makes you sit up a little straighter in your chair and think about whether you should call your broker.
But before you get too excited, let’s see what the reality is.
We’ll sift through the clues and tell you what “secret” stock Pearce is really talking about in this ad, and give you some basic background that you can use to shmear a layer of rational thought on top of the copywriter’s artistic license. If you feel like ponying up $1,495 afterward, well, be my guest — but if you’re like most people, your ability to think rationally or skeptically about a stock gets much lower after you’ve paid a big up-front fee to hear the recommendation, so let me see if I can maybe supply a little skepticism first.
The basic pitch for virtual reality is similar to what many folks have said — the adoption rate will be rapid, growth will be fast, etc. etc. They’re all guessing, of course, just like the people who say it will be a fad and will never sell outside of the hard-core gamer market are guessing, but the consensus seems to be emerging, at least among big tech hardware companies and investing pundits, that virtual reality will be “real” as a market. Here’s some more from the ad:
“1 billion iPhones are now used worldwide… and however you feel about the technology, few can doubt one thing…
“It’s the fastest-spreading — and most profitable — technology in human history.
“Which makes what I’m about to share with you all the more remarkable.
“You see, a new device is emerging that has leading analysts making some pretty mind-blowing claims.
“Deutsche Bank says this technology is ‘like smartphones nine years ago.’
“Goldman Sachs — not one for hyperbole — says it’s ‘as game-changing as the advent of the PC.’
“One prominent hedge fund even projects that it will grow from selling just 200,000 devices to 39 million by 2018.”
That 1 billion number isn’t for active iPhones, it’s for iPhones sold, cumulatively. I think I’ve bought four or five as I’ve upgraded or broken phones. Still, it’s a lot — and if you add in other devices like iPads and Apple Watches, then Apple has at least implied that they have something like a billion active devices. And, of course, they had none nine years ago — so that is rapid growth no matter how you look at it.
Whether you think augmented reality (like Google Glass, or Microsoft Hololens) will be as ubiquitous as smart phones or iPhones is a big question, and we won’t be able to answer it with anything other than a guess or a feeling. My guess is that augmented reality will remain a niche market for professional use, and virtual reality will be a larger niche market for video gaming and other immersive entertainment, and that both will grow more slowly than we think… but that’s just my guess and my personal bias, and it’s probably worth noting here that I scoffed at the fact that they were putting cameras in flip phones 15 years ago — who one earth would want to take bad pictures with their telephone? It’ll never catch on!
More from Pearce:
“The first one million devices just shipped early this year…
“And it’s just getting warmed up…
“By December, no less than 14 million units are expected to enter American homes — generating the first $1 billion in sales.
“Then the upside is even more incredible moving forward…
“Again, projections put this device’s sales potential at $150 billion.
“That’s a stunning 15,000% sales surge from current levels!
“Not 20, 10, or even 5 years down the road… but in just 48 months”
OK, so that’s combining guesses and projections for all the possible virtual reality and augmented reality headsets — so it doesn’t necessarily mean anyone’s predicting that a single product will have sales growth like that… but what is it that Pearce is specifically suggesting as an investment?
“Working quietly behind the scenes of this unprecedented growth story is a tiny company.
“One that supplies the major components of this device to the likes of Microsoft, Google, and Facebook.
“And in exchange, it commands an astronomical price.
“In fact, it rakes in about 1 of every 5 dollars this device generates. So given expert projections, we’re talking about a $30 billion market in just 48 months’ time.”
Really? $0 to $30 billion in four years for “one little company” that gets $1 for every $5 of virtual reality hardware sold? That sounds like a pipe dream to me… let’s see if we can get some more specifics:
Pearce compares this company to Qualcomm or Intel, and those stocks soared 10,000% or more (much more for Intel) as they sold key parts into the booming smart phone and computer industries (helped by crazy dot-com boom valuations).
And he goes on to mention many of the same things that other pitchmen for virtual reality have been excited about — pain relief, PTSD treatment, training for military and physicians, virtual tourism and real estate viewing and online mall shopping and industrial design and, well, all the virtual reality applications you can imagine. Some of which have been around for quite a long time, waiting for the technology to improve to make the immersive environments more real and rich, and to make them move and refresh fast enough to help viewers avoid motion sickness… then this clue…
“There’s NO part of our lives this device will not change — and almost NO industry it won’t impact
“And I can say — with 100% certainty — that 2016 is the year it will start changing everything.
“That’s why you must take action quickly.
“Before this device makes its way into homes, schools, and businesses…
“Before over 14 million units will have shipped out by December.
“And before sales surge by 15,000% over the next 48 months.
“Already, the company making it all possible recently saw its share price soar 76% in only two months.”
76% in two months, eh? Hopefully that will help the Thinkolator narrow this one down. What other clues do we get?
“The little-known, low-priced tech stock that I’ve uncovered is about to find its way into not one, not two, but all three of the devices currently under development by Microsoft, Google. and Facebook…
“Without this tiny firm’s proprietary computer chips, they simply could NOT exist.
“Its components have become a necessity, just as Intel’s chips once were to PCs two decades ago….
“… the small tech company I’ve been talking about is providing a crucial component for the device: a special kind of computer chip that processes images for the Oculus Rift….
“… this little-known technology firm with patents on a special kind of display chip… essential for the HoloLens to work….
“Google uses the company’s chips in its Google Glass devices”
OK, so a company whose shares soared 76%, and who has chips in Google Glass and in the Oculus, and patents for the kind of chip that processes images for the Hololens.
And that’s about it for clues… so what’s the stock?
Well, it’s not a new one in the annals of Virtual Reality teasers… but at least it’s not NVIDIA again, so we get a little variety, the Thinkolator says Pearce is hinting at HiMax Technologies (HIMX), which was also the “iPhone Killer” stock teased by Jason Stutman for a different newsletter back in January.
And yes, HIMX did rise by 76% in roughly two months — that was from the lows in mid-January to the highs in late March, when it tickled $12 a share. It has since given back half of that gain and sits a hair over $9 at the moment, so it is “$9 company” as teased, and it is “virtually unknown” in many circles, though it has been around for a long time.
I haven’t read through the filings or done much deep research on HIMX of late, but here’s what I said about them when I wrote about Jason Stutman’s teaser back in January:
“HiMax does indeed have chips in all of those preliminary VR and augmented reality products — they were in the Oculus Rift developers version and might well be in the consumer version coming out soon; they were in the first version of Google Glass and say they’re still partnering with Google on this project; they say they’re in the Hololens. None of that’s certain until the commercial versions release and there’s a “teardown” by some third party to identify the chips, and even then sometimes the display panels and chips (which is at least part of what’s teased here) sometimes don’t get identified.
“Does that mean the stock is going to soar when volume picks up for these kinds of products? There’s some logic to that, in that they would be getting a new commercial-scale revenue stream… but don’t hold your breath about company-changing gains. Most projections are that this VR and AR segment will grow relatively slowly, hitting maybe 5 million units over the next year or so and perhaps 25-30 million annually within five years. From what I can tell, the chips from HiMax that drive graphics (helping to run the LCD screen, etc.) cost a few dollars each. Their chips for microprojection might be more specialized and expensive, that’s what would go into the Hololens and the Google Glass (the actual VR goggles, like the Oculus Rift, use something much more akin to a smartphone screen — it’s the software and lenses that drive the 3D image and feel of immersion), and they do have the potential to place several different chips in each device.
“If there’s a total of $10 worth of HiMax chips in each VR or AR device, just to make up a number that’s somewhere in the realm of possibility, and 20 million of them are sold, both of which are probably optimistic 2017-2018 numbers at the earliest, that’s $200 million in revenue. HIMX is a fairly small fabless semiconductor company, and that would make a dent in their income statement — but it wouldn’t transform them into the next Intel overnight.”
Financially, the company fails to light a real spark of lust — last year was their worst year since 2011, and they’ve not been able to put together any real revenue or earnings growth… but analysts are expecting some significant growth this year and next year, which is why the stock has been a bit stronger of late (that, and the attention of the virtual reality enthusiasts). They’re trading at about 67X trailing earnings of 14 cents a share, but analysts see them posting significant revenue growth this year and next, and earning 37 cents a share in 2016 and 52 cents in 2017, so at $9 that’s a more reasonable sounding 24X current year forecasts for earnings (and 17X 2017 forecasts).
The company is more diversified than I first thought, its history is as a provider of imaging technology for large-panel displays and TVs, and they have gradually gotten away from that business and built their mobile business up substantially, with image sensors (like for cameras) and touch sensors helping to provide some ancillary growth in addition to their core display chips for both small and large screens, and their microdisplay chips for tiny screens (like Google glass) or projected “heads up” displays in augmented reality or in cockpits (autos, etc.).
You can see their latest investor presentation here, they seem to be doing all the right things in focusing on areas where they have some unique offering or patented design advantage… but that doesn’t mean their chips will, of necessity, be in every single virtual reality or augmented reality device. HiMax, like many fabless semiconductor companies, is well aware that competition in the industry is intense and severe, and that price pressure is relentless as new competitors enter any attractive chip market.
The big business for HIMX remains display drivers, with large screen TVs benefitting from 4K adoption in China and their strong market share among that country’s manufacturers, though they also see growth from smaller displays like tablets, automotive displays, and smartphones.
A small portion of that may well end up in virtual reality devices, since virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift essentially use the same displays as high-end smartphones, but the augmented reality devices (Google Glass and Hololens, among others) use LCOS microdisplays, which is also a key area of expected growth for HIMX. I haven’t seen any clear analysis of what HiMax’s market share is in microdisplay, but the last time the stock went a little bonkers was when everyone was excited about Google Glass in late 2013 (HIMX did provide the display for Google Glass).
Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality (VR/AR) is indeed a real area of growth for HiMax, but it remains to be seen what the financial impact of that will be — this is what they said on their conference call:
“Revenues from our non-driver businesses were $35.2 million; up 3.4% sequentially, and up 2.2% from the same period last year. Non-driver products accounted for 19.5% of our total sales, as compared to 19.1% in the previous quarter, and 19.2% one year ago. The sequential growth in our non-driver segment was mainly driven by our AR/VR related businesses as LCOS and WLO revenues more than doubled during the quarter.
“We have been making shipments for multiple customers, including a major US customer who has recently started shipping their new AR device.”
If you parse that, it sounds like the AR/VR business doubled, and that provided the 3% growth for that segment… but some of their other segments must have had declining revenue, because later in the conference call they noted that the LCOS and WLO business, which is growing mostly because of AR/VR demand, is already 5% of their sales. I assume that means 5% of their overall sales, which would put it at about $9 million for the quarter, but perhaps it’s 5% of that segment, which would put it at about $1 million.
So we obviously don’t know exactly what the VR/AR-related revenue is for HIMX right now… but if you’re starting out at about $1-2 million, and if sales to that segment surge for HiMax by 15,000% from here (that’s what Pearce says is going to be the “sales surge” for VR over the next four years), that would mean going to $150-300 million. That would roughly double sales for HiMax (their recent quarters have mostly been in the $160-220 million neighborhood), so it would be a big deal… but it wouldn’t necessarily be a “stock goes up by 1,000%” big deal, as is implied by saying, as Pearce does, that “there’s no doubt in my mind that THIS could be the last year this tiny company’s shares will trade under $50. Even $100 if things accelerate faster than expected.”
If the LCOS/WLO chip business is already at $9 million a quarter, however, and grows like that, the numbers would get much larger in a hurry — getting you to $1.4 billion over four years if you’re really growing by 15,000%. That would be a much larger game changer for HIMX, obviously, and the company would grow several-fold if they got that kind of sales growth over four years… but, of course, we have no way of knowing how many competitors will have a strong presence in that market as it grows, or what pricing will be like. Semiconductors have a way of getting commoditized very, very quickly if there isn’t one single genuinely “must have” proprietary design.
HiMax probably also has other areas of growth potential, including their substantial business in LCD drivers for 4K TVs in China (currently a much larger business than virtual reality), but I think that provides a fair idea of what kind of market potential you might imagine for augmented reality. Some business will be lost as drivers and chips are commoditized or competitors earn design wins in new screens or devices, some new business will be gained, and if they maintain a strong position in microdisplays and heads up displays and augmented reality become much larger businesses, they could see substantial revenue growth.
I think comparisons to Intel, which enjoyed a virtual monopoly thanks to their partnership with Microsoft and their huge investments in brand-building, or to Qualcomm, which owned a core mobile phone radio technology, are damaging in that they imply HiMax somehow owns the only viable or attractive display driver technology, or has a compelling brand that companies feel they have to use, and none of that seems to be true… but really, my point is just to note that even if HiMax does pretty well in these new markets, there are perfectly reasonable scenarios you can come up with that would put the stock at perhaps $20 in five years, not necessarily $100 or whatever other pie-in-the-sky number you can come up with. There’s a “they might do OK, but it’s awfully competitive” middle ground.
And though it seems to me that the company has done a decent job of trying to change with the times and adapt to new markets in recent years, after some difficulty following the end of the HDTV mass upgrade, the stock is now just about where it was when it went public in 2006. You’ll probably be much happier with HiMax, or with any small growth stock, if you allow for a range of possible outcomes and don’t assume that they’ll end up being a proprietary “in every gadget” winner for a (possibly) hot emerging class of products.
Analysts are forecasting a billion dollars in sales and 50 cents per share in earnings for 2017, and if those forecasts are anywhere near accurate the stock may be a decent buy here in the $8-9 neighborhood. That’s earnings growth of over 100% this year and 40% next year, valued at a forward PE of 17 — which is pretty cheap growth, and indicates that investors might not trust that the growth will continue (or that they don’t think the analysts are good guessers). But that “decent valuation for somewhat risky growth prospects” is a lot different than saying “the stock will be over $50 by next year.”
So whaddya think — is HIMX enough of a possible winner to entice you in for a bet? Have other favorites in the over-discussed virtual reality space? Let us know with a comment below.
P.S. Pearce hints at two other picks for his “Three Hot Stocks for the $150 Billion Virtual Reality Revolution” … haven’t looked closely enough to confirm yet, but I suspect he’s probably also recommending Microvision (MVIS) and Immersion (IMMR). I’ll try to check more closely and get a more solid answer on those for you, but if you’ve thoughts on MVIS, IMMR or HIMX please feel free to share them with a comment below.
Disclosure: I own shares and/or call options on Apple, Alphabet/Google and NVIDIA. I don’t own any other stocks mentioned above, and won’t trade in any covered stock for at least three days per Stock Gumshoe’s trading rules.
– Best stock investments