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Chip stocks face up to the grim implications of the coronavirus outbreak


China is suffering a coronavirus epidemic. (Maybe you’ve heard about it?)

At last report, 78,832 patients have been infected in China, and sad to say, COVID-19 hasn’t been contained within China. In fact, 54 countries now report infections (up four from yesterday). South Korea has the most cases outside of China… and is where today’s story begins.

In a report just out from Mizuho Securities in Japan (coronavirus infections: 214), managing director Vijay Rakesh explains how COVID-19 concerns are spreading outside the China epicenter to South Korea, Taiwan, Italy, Iran, and Japan, and impacting normal functioning of the global supply chains in PCs, server/data center, handsets, and memory.

Not all the news is bad. China’s swift imposition of quarantines on upwards of 60 million of its citizens have slowed the disease’s expansion in that country and, from Rakesh’s perspective at least, “China is slowly returning to normal.”

But is it a new normal?

Between official quarantines and citizens fearful of going out in public, Rakesh notes that China is seeing “strong” growth in “e-commerce” and also “online gaming.” Apparently, people are using the former to get access to supplies without leaving their apartments, and using the latter to while away the time while the epidemic burns itself out. In the analyst’s opinion, this is going to translate to strength in sales of graphics processing units (GPUs) manufactured by companies such as NVIDIA (NVDA) and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), of PCs software sales by Microsoft (MSFT), as well as better revenues for online gaming companies such as Tencent (TCEHY).

And all that makes sense. We just wouldn’t extrapolate the short-term activities Chinese citizens are taking whilst “cocooning” and hiding from coronavirus into long-term trends — or even necessarily a quarterly spike in sales for any of these companies. While the temptation may be strong to seek out a silver lining around the dark storm clouds looming over the market this week, make no mistake: The situation looks grim. And it’s going to take a whole more than a few online take-out orders to justify the 60 P/E ratio at NVIDIA — much less the 196 P/E ratio at AMD.

The analyst’s suggestion that Microsoft and Tencent might be worth a look, on the other hand, seems a little more sane at valuations of 33x and 32x earnings, respectively — but even those two are not exactly “cheap.”

Meanwhile, next door in South Korea, Rakesh seems to think that things will get worse before they get better. He notes, for example, that Samsung recently temporarily closed its Gumi Galaxy Z handset factory, which could delay rolling out 5G-capable handsets to the masses. And Samsung won’t be the only company affected.

“It is more difficult to control public movement [in a democracy like Korea] versus the central controlled quarantines in China,” after all. For this reason, Rakesh is predicting “major disruptions” in supply chains tied to Korea in March.

The situation could improve in the year’s second quarter, and in the second half, “as OEMs play catchup to demand.” In that longer-term timeframe, Rakesh is suggesting investors check out “cyclical auto and industrial names” such as NXP Semiconductors (NXPI) and ON Semiconductor (ON) to outperform.

To find good ideas for semiconductor stocks trading at attractive valuations, visit TipRanks’ Best Stocks to Buy, a newly launched tool that unites all of TipRanks’ equity insights.

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