It's been one year since we wrote about high-flying and high-multiple stock, Cree (NASDAQ:CREE). At the time of our first article, Cree was untouchable at 60x trailing earnings. Our take on the stock was not well-received, based on the commentaries in the article on SeekingAlpha - "Cree Inc. Is Overpriced." While it was too short to take any credit for our view in June, our follow up work in August seemed even more controversial to many. One comment by a reader of our article on Cree even went so far as to offer us an alternative strategy. The reader said:
As reflected in the chart below, anyone who followed the reader's strategy would have gotten crushed as Cree fell -51%, Veeco rost +31% and Aixtron jumped +25%.
In our previous articles, we expressed the view that multiples were going to contract as competition heated up. One year later, a recent report from Bloomberg on LEDs suggested that price will "plummet" by 2015, reconfirming our thesis. But let's back up and dig into the fundamental numbers and see what we can learn.
Back in June 2010, the consensus of analysts had predicted that Cree would earn somewhere between $0.66 to $1.68. However, Cree ended up earning $1.71, beating the highest estimate. The 2011 estimates in June 2010 were even more bullish. The earnings estimates ranged from $1.68 to $2.30. Since then, that range has tighten considerably. Analysts now expect Cree to earn anywhere from $1.66 to $1.78. Even more outrageous was a commenter's prediction of Cree earning $4.50.
The chart below depicts a graphic picture of the stock's fundamental and price collapse. How can we explain this phenomenon? We're not quite sure. But based on many news feeds about the price of LEDs falling, companies entering the space, and bullish comments on Cree, it was apparent to us that it should be something investors needed to avoid. The risk/reward profile wasn't going to be good from our assessment.
Now that the price of this stock has fallen by 50%, what's the next move? At this point, any investor interested in buying Cree should start running the numbers. The stock's risk/reward profile has reversed course and it may be worth considering. The P/E is now at 20x, which is very close to its historical low of 18. Many analysts have turned bearish on the shares (46% have either hold, sell, or underperformed). Some analysts even expect Cree earnings to fall to $1.61 in 2012.
Despite many of the negative concerns, Cree carries no debt and typically has very strong free-cash flow. The book value continued to rise during the price collapse. As a result, Cree is now trading at 1.67x book, almost as low as the 2009 low (around 1.19x book). A technology company with great IP such as Cree could easily get taken out at 2x book value. Its competitor Toyoda Gosei (TGOSY.PK) currently trades at 2x book.
It appears that our view on Cree has come full circle. This company makes great products but in our view was a bad investment one year ago. Now that everyone appears to be against the company, we can no longer ignore the value attributes of Cree. Although we believe that there is still some downside risk, we recommend considering this stock's compelling fundamental attributes for your next technology stock investment.