Ultra Clean Holdings Inc. (UCTT)

chip

Key Statistics

Enterprise Value = $556.88 million

Operating Income = $97.56 million

EV/Operating Income = 5.71x

Price/Revenue = .62x

Earnings Yield = 14%

Debt/Equity = 13%

The Company

Ultra Clean Holdings, Inc. is a small but global player in the semiconductor industry. They sell equipment used to manufacture semiconductors. This includes things like precision robotics, gas delivery systems, wafer cleaning, chemical delivery, and a variety of other tech that I have a limited understanding of. What I do understand is that the semiconductor industry is booming, Ultra Clean is at a dirt cheap valuation, and they’re a key player in creating the technology used in the manufacture of semiconductors.

Sentiment

The stock is down 9.2% over the last year. While the decline was only 9.2% over the last year, this ignores the wild ride. From June 2017 through the October 2017 peak, the stock rallied from $18.75 to a peak of $33.60, at which point the stock declined 49% to its present levels.

Why did the stock endure such a decline? Mainly, a series of earnings reports created doubts that Ultra could maintain its high level of recent growth. A 2 cent earnings miss in October 2017 triggered a 27% selloff. A 1 cent earnings miss in January caused another 34% drop. While earnings missed slightly, revenues increased by 42% year over year in the January earnings report.

My Take

I typically avoid stocks in rapidly growing industries. Growth tends to fall apart as a rule of nature. Contrary to popular sentiment, capitalism and the price system actually work. Growth is also usually rewarded by rich valuations because investors extrapolate the present into the future. For that reason, growth is rarely worth paying a premium for unless you have unique insight into why the growth will persist.

With that said, the EV/OpIncome 5.7x valuation of Ultra is simply too cheap to ignore. I’m not paying anything for the growth rate. Ultra is priced like one of my failing retail stocks that are getting crushed by competition with Amazon. In contrast, this is a company that grew revenues by 64% in FY 2017 compared to FY 2016. The growth is continuing, with the recent year over year quarters showing a 42% gain in revenue. The minor earnings slips look to me like they are simply a result of expenses that are necessary to keep up with the torrid pace of business growth. Cap-Ex increased from $7 MM in 2016 to $16 MM in 2017. Research & development increased from $9 MM to $11.6 MM. COGS went from $475 MM to $756 MM. While the growth in expenses is high and is leading to some minor earnings volatility, they seem to be growing organically with the growth of the business. Managing expenses in a business that is growing by 40% is a hard task. Of course, Wall Street is demanding and unforgiving boss.

This is a situation where minor earnings volatility is leading to roller-coaster stock price volatility and an opportunity for value investors.

The risk here is that the demand for semiconductors falls apart. I have zero insight into whether the demand will continue to grow at its torrid pace, but I do notice that semiconductor demand is tied closely to global economic growth, which doesn’t show any signs of letting up at the moment. With that said, at a debt to equity ratio of 13%, $162 MM in cash compared to $55 MM of debt, Ultra doesn’t look like a company that will fall apart once the demand cycle for semiconductors inevitably falls.

If semiconductor demand continues to be strong, slightly better expense management should cause an EPS beat, which could send the stock back to a reasonable valuation and its 52-week high. The 52-week high was $33, which would be a 100% increase from present levels. The 5-year average P/E is a very high 37x. Currently, the stock trades at 7x. Even if the stock increased to a multiple of only 20x, this would be an increase of 185%.

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