Applied Materials Earnings Preview: Attractive Valuation With No Growth

| About: Applied Materials, (AMAT)
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Although the report won't get the scrutiny you'd expect from a large-cap technology company, Applied Materials (NASDAQ:AMAT) reports its fiscal fourth quarter earnings results after the bell on Thursday, November 15, 2012. Analyst consensus is expecting $0.03 per share on $1.57 billion in revenue, versus $0.21 in earnings last year on $2.18 billion in revenue.

Like most of the semi group, AMAT has had a tough year. Still, the stock is down just 3% year-to-date (using Wednesday night's close), which doesn't include the annual dividend of $0.36 per share or 3.5% dividend yield.

Both earnings per share and revenue estimates have been stable since the August report.

AMAT is a semiconductor capital equipment company that significantly reshaped itself in the early 2000s, moving into areas like solar (Energy and Environmental) and such, but that move hasn't really paid off.

Unfortunately, pressure continues on the fiscal 2013 earnings estimate, which as of tonight's writing is $0.68 per share, down from 2012's expected $0.72 per share (assuming the Q4 estimate is met on Thursday night).

While AMAT looks pretty attractive on a valuation basis -- at 7(x) cash-flow and with a 12% free-cash-flow yield -- and it is currently buying back a lot of shares, the problem is that there isn't any growth.

Revenues and earnings per share have fallen year-over-year for four straight quarters.

AMAT is divided into four segments: 1.) Silicon Systems, 2.) Applied Global Services, 3.) Display and 4.) Environmental, and only the Silicon Systems Group (NYSEARCA:SSG) was growing until the last few quarters.

SSG is two-thirds of all AMAT's revenues, and accounts for all of AMAT's operating income. However, growth has been slowing in the unit.

Given how depressing the sentiment is on technology in general today, while I don't think there is a lot of downside in the stock with the cash-flow valuation, it sure seems like there is not much upside in this environment, either. The one upside to AMAT is that in 2013, the company will be lapping very easy comparisons from 2012.

Our internal spreadsheet values AMAT between $10 and $12 per share, while Morningstar values it at $17 per share, and that might come down after Thursday night.

We are reconsidering our current position in AMAT, but selling during the depths of the fiscal cliff stand-off might not be the best strategy.

The 1990s bubble babies seem caught in the whirlpool of attractive valuations, but stagnant growth at AMAT is no exception.

Not sure what to do, but hoping Thursday night's report will give us some insight.

Disclosure: I am long AMAT. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.