The Profitable Play on the Hard Drive Business

Anh is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

Would you like to invest in a profitable, high return business that has recently experienced significant growth? In addition, this company is still quite cheaply valued. It is Western Digital (NASDAQ: WDC). Since November 2012, the stock has advanced 77%, from $33.40 per share to nearly $59 per share. Western Digital is still in the portfolio of several famous investors including David Einhorn, Joel Greenblatt, and Paul Tudor Jones. Is Western Digital a sweet buy after the recent rally?

Business snapshot

Western Digital is well known for developing and manufacturing storage products under several brands including WD, HGST, and G-Technology. The company owns one of the industry’s biggest patent portfolios with over 6,000 active patients globally. Interestingly, most of Western Digital’s revenue, $7.22 billion, or 57.9% of the total revenue, is derived from Asia. The U.S. ranked second with $2.4 billion in revenue, while the revenue from Europe, Middle East, and Africa was around $2.3 billion. The company has quite a concentrated customer base, with Hewlett-Packard accounting for 11% of its total 2012 revenue. Its top ten customers represented as much as 50% of its total net sales.

Moving away from the PC business

Recently, the company announced its third-quarter earnings results. In the third quarter, Western Digital shipped 60.2 million hard-drives and recorded revenue of more than $3.76 billion, 24% higher than the revenue in the third quarter last year. However, net income came in at only $391 million, or $1.60 per diluted share, much lower than last year net income of $483 million, or $1.96 per diluted share. The lower net income in the third quarter this year was due to a 50% increase in R&D expenses and a $63 million charges in employee termination benefits.

Even with the huge exposure of Western Digital to PC business, which is declining, investors should not be bearish, as the company has been trying to grow its non-PC business. In the recent conference call, Wolfgang U. Nickl, Western Digital’s CFO commented: “Over the last 5 years, the revenue contribution of our non-PC related business has grown from 35% in fiscal year '08 and is projected to account for more than 50% of our revenue in fiscal year '13.”

Profitable and cheap

What makes me excited is its consistent double-digit return on invested capital. In the past five years, its ROIC fluctuated in the range of 13.16% to 32.98%. In the past twelve months, its ROIC stayed at 18.88%. The cash flow position is also very strong, with operating cash flow of $3.56 billion and the free cash flow of more than $2.4 billion. Western Digital is trading around $59 per share with a total market cap of $14.1 billion. The market values the company quite cheaply at only 3.1 times EV/EBITDA. Compared to its peers, EMC (NYSE: EMC) and Seagate Technology (NASDAQ: STX), Western Digital has the cheapest valuation of the trio.

EMC – the cloud storage play

EMC focuses on hybrid Cloud Computing with two main categories: EMC Information Infrastructure and VMware Virtual Infrastructure. EMC derived the majority of its revenue, $15.6 billion, or nearly 72% of total 2012 revenue from the Information Storage segment, while VMware Virtual Infrastructure ranked second with nearly $4.6 billion in revenue. Recently, EMC announced the latest enhancement across its Documentum portfolio to increase customers’ productivity and improve governance in the cloud.

With new innovations, including EMC Documentum Asset Operations, EMC Documentum Electronic Trial Master File, EMC Documentum Quality and Manufacturing, and EMC Healthcare Integration portfolio, EMC is reaching out to customers in the energy, life sciences, and the healthcare industry. EMC is trading at $23 per share, with a total market cap of $48.5 billion. The market values EMC the most expensive among the three, at as much as 8.4 times EV/EBITDA.

Seagate – juiciest dividend

Seagate is a more direct competitor to Western Digital, providing electronic data storage products with the main products being hard-disk drives. Seagate also derived most of its revenue, 55% of the total revenue, from Asia Pacific while the American region ranked second, accounting for 26% of the total 2012 revenue. Seagate also has a concentrated customer base. Dell and Hewlett-Packard are the two biggest customers, representing 15% and 14%, respectively, of the total sales in 2012.

Several days ago, Seagate announced a new flash-memory solution portfolio, with its first client solid-state drive (SSD) and its next generation enterprise SSDs. According to the company, these new drives have high data integrity and ultra-fast speed. Gary Gentry, the senior VP and GM of the company’s SSD business said: “By adding more SSDs to our family of hard disk and solid state hybrid drives, we now have the broadest portfolio of storage products in the industry, delivering one-stop shopping for our customers and partners.” At $42.30 per share, Seagate is worth $15.1 billion on the market. The market values Seagate at only 4.27 times EV/EBITDA.

Among the three, only EMC doesn’t pay any dividends. Western Digital offers shareholders dividend with a yield at 1.70%. Income investors must love Seagate the most with its highest dividend yield at 3.70%.

My Foolish take

Although investors might be scared of Western Digital’s exposure to the declining PC industry, the company is moving away from the PC business to generate more revenue from the non-PC related segment. With growing revenue, double-digit return on invested capital, and very low valuation, Western Digital could be a sweet pick for investors at its current price.

While Seagate Technology pays a significant and growing dividend and seems able to generate the cash flow to support it, a global slowdown in demand for digital memory storage has begun to put pressure on margins. Is Seagate worthy of your investment consideration (and dollars)? The Motley Fool answers this question and more in our most in-depth Seagate research available for smart investors like you. Thousands have already claimed their own premium ticker coverage, and you can gain instant access to your own by clicking here now.


Anh HOANG has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of EMC and Western Digital.. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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