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Tap into a lowly rated high growth technology play

A Maldon-based semiconductor chip designer and manufacturer is outperforming and is well funded to accelerate growth in a market that is exhibiting secular growth mega trends. It also offers hidden value
Tap into a lowly rated high growth technology play
  • Trading ahead of analysts’ annual pre-tax profit forecasts of £2mn, up from £1.1mn in 2020/21
  • Net cash of £25mn (150p a share), up from £22.6mn at 30 September 2021
  • Strong forward order book stretching beyond 12 months

Maldon-based semiconductor chip designer and manufacturer CML Microsystems (CML:380p) is reaping the benefits of the strong secular drivers in its end markets. Following the strategic disposal of its solid-state storage division, CML is a pure-play on the high growth industrial communications market. Specifically, it provides integrated circuits to distributors and system integrators (Cobra, Hytera, Icom, Kenwood, Orbcomm and Sepura are among its clients).

CML is not only leveraging its standing as a key supplier to many of the world's Tier 1 equipment manufacturers, but is well funded to accelerate growth in a market that is exhibiting secular growth mega trends. Key drivers are increasing demand for data to be transmitted faster and more securely, the upgrading of telecoms infrastructure, and the growing prevalence of private commercial wireless networks for voice and data communications linked to the industrial internet of things (IIoT). In data-centric markets, higher data throughput from terrestrial and satellite communications applications are required to meet the needs of the growing machine-to-machine (M2M) and IIoT market segments.

CML’s addressable market is worth $1bn (£768bn) and includes a number of key growth areas in the coming years: critical infrastructure (public utilities, smart grid, RF identification (RFID)); 5G (repeaters, small/pico cells, fixed wireless access, distributed antenna systems, smart meters); and satellite communications (terminals, broadband access).

To address these multiple growth markets, CML has been expanding its semiconductor product portfolio by adding narrowband applications operating at the lower end of the radio spectrum. As opposed to broadband, these applications use short-range fixed-location wireless applications such as RFID, commercial vehicle remote keyless entry devices or narrowband-IoT focused on indoor coverage, low cost, long battery life and high connection density. The acquisition of a third-party design house, PRFI, has been instrumental in widening the product offering and addressable markets.

PRFI is an approved third-party design house for several leading global semiconductor companies and boasts an impressive client roster that includes BAE Systems, Huawei, Inmarsat, National Semiconductor, QinetiQ, Samsung, Sony Semiconductor and Thales. PRFI was acquired not only for its expertise in microwave and millimetre-wave frequencies, including wide band applications for high data rate applications, but to speed up the time-to-market for new products. It’s doing just that, launching a new SµRF range of high frequency, high bandwidth integrated circuits targeting RF and millimetre-wave frequencies in emerging markets such as 5G, satellite and IoT. First orders have already been received from early-stage adopters within vehicle tracking and smart grid applications.

Importantly, CML’s diverse, blue-chip client base includes some of the world's leading commercial and industrial product manufacturers, and the spread of its customers and diversity of the product range help protect the business from the cyclicality usually associated with the semiconductor industry. Moreover, CML’s proprietary IP, reputation for quality and reliability, and single-source supplier status means that once its chips are designed in a client’s product then it rarely loses a contract given the significant product redesign required for the client to take its business elsewhere.

Furthermore, CML works closely with clients through the product development cycle, to reduce the time-to-market and de-risk the future sales cycle. Effectively, this ‘one-stop shop’ offering is an extension of the customer’s own engineering team. CML utilises a combination of outsourced manufacturing and in-house testing, employing 147 staff, of which 40 per cent are engineers, across operations in the UK, Asia and the US.

Currently, a high proportion of sales are derived from Professional Mobile Radios (the network of choice for the police, ambulance service, military and other critical infrastructure markets), and data-centric wireless applications (critical infrastructure, public utilities, smart grid). 5G infrastructure (base stations, small cells, distributed antenna systems) and satellite communications are a smaller part of the mix, but their contribution is forecast to ramp up in the coming years.

The secular growth drivers are driving revenue and profits upwards. CML has outperformed house broker Shore Capital’s previously upgraded full-year earnings estimates and is well set to lift pre-tax profit by 25 per cent to £2.5mn on 11 per cent higher revenue of £17.6mn in the new financial year. On this basis, the shares are rated on an attractive cash-adjusted forward price/earnings (PE) ratio of 15 and offer a prospective dividend yield of 2.8 per cent. A recently announced earnings accertive £3mn share buy-back programme is another bull point. 

CML has hidden value in its balance sheet, too, owning valuable unencumbered investment property near Chelmsford as well as the old Microsense facility at Portsmouth which is let to a third party. These properties were last valued at £3.78mn, a valuation well underpinned by rental income of £0.34mn. In addition, the unencumbered property and 29 acres of surplus land at the Maldon headquarters has a £4.5mn carrying value, or less than half its estimated open market value.

I initiated coverage, at 400p, earlier this year (Alpha Report: ‘Profit from semiconductor megatrends’, 4 February 2022), and see potential for almost 50 per cent share price upside to my 550p target price. Buy.

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