Chris Umiastowski is the growth investor for Globe Investor's Strategy Lab. Follow his contributions here and view his model portfolio here.
A couple of weeks ago, on a sunny Friday morning in November, I was comfortably wearing a short-sleeve shirt while raking up the leaves on my front lawn. I had my ear buds on and the iPhone in my pocket was streaming me a replay of the Sierra Wireless third-quarter results conference call from the night before. While the sun and unusually warm air were a welcome opportunity, so too, I believe, is the recent weakness in the stock price for this wireless technology company.
Sierra Wireless Inc. has been in my Strategy Lab portfolio since its inception in September, 2012. The stock, which trades on both the TSX and Nasdaq, has done very well, climbing from my $8.67 (U.S.) purchase price to highs beyond $40 as the 2015 new year rolled in. But since then the stock has been moving sharply lower.
Growth investors might be interested to know that, following the most recent set of financial results earlier this month, Sierra Wireless has plummeted yet again. Prior to the third-quarter conference call the stock price was about $25, but today, as I write this, the company's shares trade for less than $17 each.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Sierra Wireless is the clear market leader selling wireless data products into many business applications. Their 2G, 3G and 4G wireless devices connect to cellular networks so that cars, security systems, billboards, vending machines, payment terminals and all sorts of other devices are accessible anywhere, any time. Over the past few years they've been working hard to build software capabilities to manage fleets of devices for customers and be able to collect monthly recurring revenue on top of one-time hardware sales.
I think this business model makes a lot of sense, but it's also slow going. Wall Street may have gotten ahead of itself earlier this year, so even while the company posts reasonable growth, the stock price suffers because it still isn't good enough for some. And because I've seen this emotional roller coaster play out many times before, I feel that Sierra Wireless is now irrationally priced on the low side. Among all of the stocks in my Strategy Lab portfolio, it may represent the best mix of long-term upside potential with near-term downside protection – simply because it's been beaten up so much already.
Let's look at why the market beat them up earlier this month. The company's third-quarter results were in part weaker than expected because one of their major customers, a PC manufacturer, is busy making an internal transition to the latest Intel chip set for its computers. This has affected orders for 4G wireless modems, which the customer puts in its laptops. It's a short-term problem that really has nothing to do with the long-term business fundamentals. The customer isn't going away, and neither is the market. These are the kinds of "problems" I love. They create opportunities to buys stocks cheaper.
But on top of this, Sierra Wireless also had some compelling longer-term news. They've been working hard to win some big deals in the automotive sector. After all, it's 2015 and most cars are still not connected to the Internet! That's bound to change, albeit slowly, and Sierra Wireless won a major deal that should see millions of its wireless modems sold into the automotive sector with just this one win.
Sounds great, right? It does … except volume doesn't start to increase until 2018. Unfortunately that's well beyond the time frame most analysts are paid to think. I'm not saying the analysts following the story don't understand what's happening. Of course they do. But the focus will be on the short term, and in that short term it looks like earnings per share may be slightly lower than expected. That almost always leads to a lower stock price.
If you're able to take a long-term perspective, you might consider Sierra Wireless among the stocks you look at in the growth sector. Even with weaker expectations, analysts are still looking for $1.04 in earnings per share next year, meaning the stock trades at about 16 times earnings. In five to 10 years most cars will be connected to the Internet, and Sierra Wireless is the dominant vendor of the wireless modules to make this happen. That's just one industry. The "Internet of Things" is a huge growth area and Sierra Wireless is my top choice to play that trend.