Harriet Lefton

About the Author Harriet Lefton

Harriet originates from the UK where she worked as a journalist specializing in the metal markets. She graduated from the University of Cambridge before becoming a qualified UK lawyer.

Fund Guru Dmitry Balyasny Throws in the Towel on Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD) and Micron Technology, Inc. (MU)

Is the semiconductor party over? Hedge fund whizz Balyasny exits AMD while slashing MU stock.

Is Dmitry Balyasny, founder of the $12.6 billion Balyasny Asset Management fund, bearish on the outlook of key semiconductor stocks Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMD) and Micron Technologies, Inc. (NASDAQ:MU)?

According to 13F forms filed with the SEC, Balyasny exited AMD completely while substantially slashing the fund’s Micron position. These two semiconductor stocks are closely tracked by investors- and Balyasny’s latest trades in these stocks could be an important signal that one of the savviest hedge funds mind is skeptical about their continued growth potential. This is especially true here as Balyasny is known to be actively involved in the fund’s trading decisions.

Balyasny founded the Chicago-based fund, nicknamed BAM, back in 2001. Since this date the fund has enjoyed rapid growth which leaves us now with 90 international teams, multiple strategies and multiple funds. Balyasny is, perhaps unsurprisingly, also the name behind the famous ‘BAM model’. This involves risk-taking teams spreading capital across a very diverse range of stocks aided by the latest technology. Indeed, the fund’s approach is neatly summed up in its saying ‘the best strategy is multiple strategies.’

These measures are crucial according to Balyasny because it is an increasingly tough market for hedge funds. In a letter to investors earlier this year he said that the market has become more efficient making it harder to pinpoint easy money-making opportunities. “A correct, fundamentally variant view is hard to come by, and the alpha is short-lived as others catch on.”  But there is some upside for the hedge funds who can outlive their competitors: “The market is just very competitive,” he said. “While the business is tough in the short run, it is ultimately good for survivors.”

Let’s dive in now and take a closer look at these two intriguing trades:

Advanced Micro Devices

In the third quarter, Balyasny bid goodbye to volatile semiconductor stock AMD. He exited the stock completely with the sale of 510,800 shares worth $6,512,700.

Top Morgan Stanley analyst Joseph Moore would no doubt approve of Balyasny’s big decision. He reiterated his AMD sell rating on November 13 with a very bearish $8 price target- suggesting a -22% downside from the current share price. The reason for Moore’s negative take on the stock can be explained by advancing crypto currency technology. Initially, the huge explosion in cryptocurrencies led to a boom in demand for GPUs. But this demand is now looking increasingly temporary. Advancing digital currency technology means that buying AMD GPU chips is becoming increasingly unprofitable for mining efforts with high power costs. In fact, Moore believes that the effect will be so extensive that demand for AMD’s GPUs could halve within just one year.

In fact the payoff is already declining from six months ago during the initial AMD chip boom. At that point, it was far more profitable to mine with an AMD chip than it is now. For example, Ethereum is set to undergo more changes in how the software operates. Just one of these changes, a big milestone called Metropolis- which has 2 phases, “Byzantium” and “Constantinople”- will have a devastating effect for GPUs. “We believe that total graphics sales for Ethereum mining in 2017 will be $800 mn or so, and will decline by 50% in 2018; we can validate the 2017 number by looking at the increased complexity of the algorithm,” concludes Moore.

Interestingly, he also believes that AMD will suffer more than rival Nvidia (NVDA) because it has been less upfront about the size of its exposure to this trend. NVDA also benefits from a number of other big-noise growth drivers including significant HPC/cloud growth, a PC gaming cycle next year with Volta, and strong Nintendo growth according to the analyst.

Overall, the Street has a cautious take on AMD stock right now. We can see from TipRanks that AMD has a Hold analyst consensus rating. In the last three months this breaks down into a mix of 8 buy, 9 hold and 4 sell ratings. With prices falling, the average analyst price target of $14.68 now stands at close to 46% upside from the current share price.

Micron Technologies

Balyasny wasn’t feeling too bullish about another semiconductor stock either- Micron Technologies. He cut the fund’s MU position by no less than 57% with the sale of 234,618 shares. The fund’s remaining position of 177,884 shares is now worth $6,996,000.

In contrast to this bearish move by Balyasny, Morgan Stanley’s Joseph Moore is confident that MU stock has power for the long-haul. He reiterated his buy rating on MU on December 4 while significantly boosting the price tag from $39 to $55 (31% upside potential). Moore acknowledges that NAND flash memory prices are set to decline, but does not let this stir him from his bullish thesis on the stock. NAND represents less than one third of the chip giant’s business, points out Moore, who adds that “It [NAND] has 20 points less gross margin than DRAM, also, so it contributes much less than one third of profits – however, this can be misleading, as a lost point of margin on one third of the business has the same impact no matter what the starting point.”

At the same time, he is confident on the stock’s DRAM outlook keeping MU’s growth story intact. “We stand by our NAND comments, which saw some pushback, but feel strongly that DRAM should remain strong, that Micron should have significant earnings growth potential from here, and that this pullback is an opportunity” says Moore. Shares are currently trading at $42 down from over $48 five days ago. He explains that MU is down due to a general selloff in year-to-date tech outperformers as well as ‘unsurprising’ data points on NAND supply loosening.

Note that Joseph Moore is a top analyst to follow when it comes to MU stock. Across his 14 ratings on the stock he boasts a 93% success rate and incredible 85% average return.

Unlike AMD, the Street in general is very positive about the outlook for Micron. The stock has a Strong Buy analyst consensus rating based on analyst ratings from the last three months. In this time, MU has received an impressive 22 buy ratings and only 3 hold ratings. Meanwhile the average analyst price target of $52.86 indicates further upside potential of almost 26%.

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