Better Buy: Micron Technology Inc. vs. Qualcomm

Much of the news surrounding Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) involves its myriad lawsuits and the negative impact they've had on its financial results. But in spite of the company's legal wranglings with longtime smartphone customer Apple and others, the stock has performed admirably.

Unlike Qualcomm, which gets more than its fair share of press, Micron (NASDAQ: MU) and its data storage, memory, and solid state drive (SSD) solutions seems to fly under many an investor's radar. But for investors in search of growth, Micron warrants serious consideration.

So which stock is the better buy?

The case for Qualcomm

Despite paying out a whopping $2.65 billion in legal settlements last fiscal year and missing out on significant licensing revenue, Qualcomm's $22.3 billion in sales was a mere 5% decline compared to 2016. Not bad, considering the company is losing an estimated $500 million a quarter from its dispute with Apple.

Even with the legal snafus with BlackBerry, South Korea, and Taiwan behind it, Qualcomm's all-important, and highly profitable, licensing unit is taking a hit. Last quarter's $1.2 billion in licensing revenue and $829 million in earnings before taxes (EBT) marked 36% and 48% declines, respectively.

But all is not lost for Qualcomm: Its smartphone unit is performing admirably. QCT, Qualcomm's smartphone division, generated $4.65 billion in revenue last quarter, or a 13% improvement from a year ago. The QCT unit is also becoming significantly more profitable, with EBT soaring 42% to $973 million in fiscal 2017's fourth quarter.

Qualcomm's strong 3.5% dividend yield should make the company's ongoing shift to 5G, Internet of Things, mobile computing, and networking a bit easier to tolerate. The icing on the cake: Each of the burgeoning markets Qualcomm is targeting carries significant growth opportunities. It will take some time for the effects of the lawsuits to abate, but counting Qualcomm out because of its legal issues would be a mistake.

The case for Micron

As stellar as Micron's performance was last year -- the stock nearly doubled in value -- and as phenomenal as its fiscal 2018 first quarter was, shares remains a bargain. Micron trades at 6.6 times trailing earnings, below its peer average of 6.9, and at just 4.5 times projected earnings.

Micron is hardly the new kid on the block, but last quarter's 71% jump in revenue to $6.8 billion was reminiscent of a start-up in hyper-growth mode. Micron's memory and storage solutions are ideally suited to today's fast-growing cloud data centers, IoT "gadgets," and mobile-computing markets, and it shows.

In addition to notching solid top-line growth, Micron was able to keep a handle on expenses, which in turn resulted in a skyrocketing bottom line. Last quarter's $2.19 in per-share earnings obliterated fiscal 2017's first-quarter $0.16 EPS. Even after redeeming $2.25 billion in secured notes in the quarter, Micron still boasts $6.17 billion in ready cash on its balance sheet.

A strong pricing environment for Micron's memory solutions was reflected in its gross margin as a percentage of sales. Margins more than doubled to 55.1%, compared to last year's 25.5%. The combination of flat expenses and higher margins lifted Micron's operating income to $3.1 billion from last year's meager $359 million.

And the better buy is...

While I don't buy into the notion that Qualcomm's legal troubles warrant shunning its stock -- at least for investors with a long-term perspective -- Micron's performance can't be denied. Micron's mind-boggling comparables aren't the result of one-time gains or supplied merely by a big contract or two.

The memory solutions specialist may fly under many an investor's radar, but that actually works is a positive for investors in search of growth. Thanks to having the right solutions, at the right time, and a nearly unmatched performance, Micron is the hands-down better buy over Qualcomm.

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Tim Brugger has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Qualcomm and has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.