This may be a surprise for those of you who have been following me on MarketWatch, as I have focused on finding Revolutionary companies early on and holding on to them, usually forever.
Intel is a company that is probably about to take market share for the first time in at least half a decade in the world’s most important technology industry: computer chips.
The semiconductor industry is facing a potential decade-long supply-constraint problem that this company can fix, giving it a potential trillion-dollar side business along with maybe another one or two.
And the kicker is the valuation: Intel is trading at a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 14.2, compared with a forward P/E ratio of 26.1 for competitors Advanced Micro Devices Inc.
and 46.7 for Nvidia Corp.
Intel also has a dividend yield of close to 3%.
Two more comparisons — the SPDR S&P 500 ETF
trades for 19.7 times forward earnings and the Invesco QQQ Trust
(which tracks the Nasdaq-100 Index
) trades at a forward P/E of 26.
Most investors think Intel is boring. I agreed until recently. INTC has been dead money for years. I would imagine that with Intel having been trading in the low teens P/E and with dividends of 2%-3% over the last 10 years while vastly underperforming just about every other semiconductor stock on the planet, just about every value investor has churned in and out of the stock at some point.
We can say the same thing about the sell-side analysts, most of whom at one point or another have upgraded INTC only to be disappointed when the stock basically went nowhere. In fact, Intel’s stock is still way below its dot-com bubble peak, when it hit a closing high of $74.88 on Aug. 31, 2000.
Intel’s long-term problem
) and others for years. The company had pretty much become an IBM-like or GE-like financial-engineering firm with a declining annuity business, boring CEOs and no risk-taking.
Turning the big ship around
But then they got this guy to head up the company. As Intel’s site puts it:
CEO Pat Gelsinger “began his career in 1979 at Intel, becoming its first chief technology officer, and also serving as senior vice president and the general manager of the Digital Enterprise Group. He managed the creation of key industry technologies such as USB and Wi-Fi. He was the architect of the original 80486 processor, led 14 microprocessor programs and played key roles in the Intel Core and Intel Xeon processor families, leading to Intel becoming the preeminent microprocessor supplier.”
Yes, Gelsinger created the x86 chip platform that changed the world. He is brilliant and has a track record to prove it. I love to bet on brilliance (see Always bet on brilliance and revolution or Trade Alert: Betting on brilliance (and EV)).
Near term, all indications are that the company’s latest chipset, the Alder Lake is a demonstrably better performer than AMD’s latest laptop and desktop chips (see Core i9-12900HK review: Intel ‘Alder Lake’ laptops crush the competition or Intel’s Alder Lake Mobile 12900HK Gets High Praise in First Reviews).
Intel’s latest chips look like they are cheaper and better than the competition and that’s the kind of thing that can boost gross margins, growth rates and eventually P/E multiples.
There’s also the Sapphire Rapids chipset that is the fourth generation of Intel’s Xeon Scalable Processor brand data center server CPU. According to Intel, it “will offer the largest leap in data center CPU capabilities for a decade or more.”
INTC’s stock would likely double if the company were to take any meaningful share in those two businesses and would likely be up at least a bit from these current high $40s levels.
Attractive risk/reward balance
One of the reasons I like the risk/reward of this trade so much is that the downside appears limited to about 20% or so, while you have pretty good odds that the stock could double on market-share gains.
And then you have the virtual call option on the potential that Intel’s MobileEye autonomous vehicle technology, which is certainly getting closer to solving the problem along with Tesla Inc.
Waymo and maybe a couple other companies.
And most importantly, it’s the virtual call option on the fabrication business, making chips for other companies, that makes Intel so compelling.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.
Samsung Electronics Co.
and Intel will be trying to build new semiconductor factories to meet the huge demand for chips in everything from cars and computers and phones to shirts, wearables, shoes, doorknobs, streetlights and roads — probably just about everything but toothpaste.
The semiconductor industry just crossed a half-trillion dollars in annual sales and will continue to be a mostly secular growth story for the next decade or two. Intel’s got the U.S. government and state governments kicking in to help pay for what will probably end up being close to $100 billion invested in new fabs over the next five years. Those fabs could create a trillion-dollar valuation if Intel pulls this off and the demand for semiconductor chips remains as growth-y as it has been.
Intel’s finally got some real and amazing potential catalysts along with the potential to take market share for the first time in years even as the stock market hates it. The Intel investment setup here reminds me a bit of when I was pounding the table to buy Tesla back at a split-adjusted $45 a share in 2019 because, like Intel now, Tesla was doubted by investors and analysts even though the company had finally set itself up to win with new products and to to take market share, with vehicles and new factories partially paid for by governments.
The responses from my friends since I started buying Intel recently have been similar to those when I first starting buying/pounding the table on Tesla back in 2019 or even when I first started buying Apple back in 2003: shock, exasperation or confusion.
This Intel investment, like any, has its risks. But the potential and likeliness of the upside makes this the first time since Tesla in 2019 that you’re seeing me pound the table on a new idea. Nothing’s easy out there and Intel’s got a lot of work ahead to realize this potential, so I’ll remain balanced even as I have made INTC a top-three position in my personal account and in the hedge fund.
I plan to buy more on any weakness in both places.
Be careful, as always.
Cody Willard is a columnist for MarketWatch and editor of the Revolution Investing newsletter. Willard or his investment firm may own, or plan to own, securities mentioned in this column.