Is Qualcomm a Good Stock to Buy?

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

There were five finance and insurance companies on our list of the ten most popular stocks among hedge funds for the third quarter of the year. There were the widely followed tech stocks- Apple, Google, and Microsoft- and popular value play GM. The final stock in the rankings, coming in at #10 with 77 hedge funds and other notable investors reporting a position, was $108 billion market cap communication equipment company Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM). See the full list of the most popular stocks.

Qualcomm filed its annual report in November for the fiscal year ending in September 2012. It was an excellent year for the company, with sales up 28% from the previous fiscal year and showing a 14% CAGR over the last four years. Earnings increased 43%; the numbers for the fourth fiscal quarter were lower in both cases, but still about a 20% improvement on the numbers from a year earlier. In addition, Qualcomm boosted its R&D costs for the year by about a third, a growth rate roughly in line with that of revenue.

Qualcomm now trades at 18 times trailing earnings, suggesting that investors expect some continuation of high growth despite the company’s size. Wall Street analysts expect $4.30 per share in earnings for the current fiscal year, which would represent 16% growth rate from the last year and a current-year P/E of 15. The $1.08 in average quarterly EPS is fairly high compared to 73 cents in its most recent quarter, so we’re skeptical that the company can hit its targets. We think that even if earnings come in slightly below expectations, the stock would be about fairly priced. If Qualcomm can continue double-digit growth rates in future years, then it will prove undervalued at current levels.

Billionaire Ken Fisher’s Fisher Asset Management owned 9.2 million shares of Qualcomm at the end of September, about even with what it had owned three months earlier (check out more of Fisher's stock picks). Another major holder of the stock was Lone Pine Capital, which is managed by billionaire and Tiger Cub Stephen Mandel. The $17 billion hedge fund actually cut its stake during the third quarter but still reported a position of 6.9 million shares (find more of Lone Pine's favorite stocks).

The company’s peers include Broadcom Corporation (NASDAQ: BRCM), Texas Instruments (NASDAQ:TXN), Motorola Solutions (NYSE: MSI), and Nokia (NYSE: NOK). Broadcom also gets an optimistic outlook from the sell-side, carrying trailing and forward P/Es of 25 and 11, respectively. That company’s business also hasn’t been performing as well as Qualcomm’s recently- revenue growth was a good bit lower last quarter than a year earlier and net income was actually down. Our impression is that Qualcomm looks like a better value than that company.

Texas Instruments and Motorola have forward earnings multiples in the 15-16 range, even with Qualcomm. These companies have each been seeing high earnings growth, but revenue numbers have been close to flat. They’d be interesting buys if they can continue improving on the bottom line, but we’d have to review their prospects more closely to determine if they can sustain their earnings growth (which would eventually require better revenues). Nokia is unprofitable on a trailing basis, and is expected to remain in the red for 2013; with its revenue down, we’d avoid the stock.

Purely in terms of trailing earnings Qualcomm doesn’t look great, but because the business has been doing well recently it deserves consideration as a “growth at a reasonable price” stock. We do think that its growth rate will come down, and in the short term it may underperform analyst expectations, but the current price implies a fairly short growth period and we would at least say that it is a better buy than Broadcom.

This article is written by Matt Doiron and edited by Meena Krishnamsetty. They don't own shares in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Qualcomm. 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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