With the semiconductor space on fire, up 35 percent for 2017 according to the Philadelphia semiconductor index, CNBC’s Jim Cramer understands investors’ desire to own chip stocks.
“At the moment, it feels like even a monkey with a dartboard could make a killing in the semis. That’s how strong they’ve been. But this is also an inherently high-risk group,” the “Mad Money” host said. “The moment we get any meaningful signs of an economic downturn, you better believe these high-flying semiconductor stocks … will lose some of their mojo.”
That’s why Cramer decided to focus on a stock in the group that investors can own without losing sleep: the world’s biggest analog chip manufacturer, Texas Instruments.
With shares up almost 30 percent for the year, Texas Instruments makes chips that process speed, sound and voltage for power management and mobile phones’ radio signals, among other applications. It also makes microcontrollers and wireless connectivity chips.
Cramer loves the consistency of Texas Instruments’ stock. Over the last five years, shares have climbed higher, bouncing back from their few momentary hiccups.
The “Mad Money” host argued that Texas Instruments’ steady-eddie performance goes back to its $6.5 billion acquisition of National Semiconductor in 2011.
While the analog market is fragmented, the deal gave Texas Instruments much more market share than its competitors and solidified its standing as a leading analog chipmaker. Unlike digital chips, analog chips can be made cheaply with older equipment, which translates to more consistent profit margins.
The deal also helped Texas Instruments generate much more cash. The company’s free cash flow climbed from $2.4 billion in 2011 to over $4 billion in 2016.
“Once you are generating a ton of cash like that, there are a lot of ways you can [use it] to make your stock safe, more durable and a better investment, and that’s exactly what the incredibly shareholder-friendly Texas Instruments has done,” Cramer said. “This is the key: these guys are very disciplined about capital allocation.”
Here’s the breakdown of Texas Instruments’ spending in the last 10 years: $32 billion went back into the business via research and development, sales, marketing and inventory; $25 billion went to share buyback programs; $9 billion went to stock dividends and $7 billion went to takeovers, mainly National Semiconductor’s.
Moreover, the company has delivered very consistent earnings reports, frequently bearing estimates and only reporting weaker-than-expected sales once in the last eight years.
Cramer added that the stock is inexpensive, trading at just under 22 times next year’s earnings. That may not sound cheap, but given Texas Instruments’ expanding margins and earnings growth, Cramer said the story is worth buying.
“At a time when so many semiconductor stocks have surged into the stratosphere, you might be worried about what happens if these names start plummeting back to earth,” the “Mad Money” host said. “I still like the chipmakers very much here … but if you want to protect your profits while keeping some exposure to this red-hot industry, you know what? It’s going to be Texas Instruments that allows you to sleep at night. Maybe it’s the way to go.”