2017 was a tough year for optical networking specialist Oclaro (NASDAQ: OCLR). The maker of fiber-optic networking components saw share prices slide 25% lower despite rising sales, surging cash flows, and a clean slate of positive earnings surprises.
Following that head-scratcher, early 2018 has been a roller coaster. Oclaro's stock dipped 16% lower just before the company reported second-quarter results, then made it all back thanks to another solid report. All told, the stock is up 5% year to date, in line with the stock market in general.
If you picked up some Oclaro shares at an even deeper discount in late January or early February, you've already booked something like a 20% gain in three weeks. But Oclaro still looks like a buy at today's prices.
What's wrong with Oclaro?
Some Oclaro investors worry about slow orders from China, in the middle of a difficult changeover from 40-gigabit modules to the new 100-gigabit product generation. Oclaro was caught off guard by extremely high demand for the faster solution in 2017, and the company has been limited by its ability to manufacture lasers and networking modules for the 100G generation quickly enough to fill incoming orders.
Both of these issues should be temporary.
Oclaro already reported a short-lived order uptick from China in the second quarter, triggered by inventory management around the Lunar New Year. More to the point, management expects demand from the Middle Kingdom to start building in the second half of this calendar year. The product mix for that expected surge includes a significant amount of lower-speed modules, relieving some of the pressure to deliver tons of newer and faster products in a hurry.
On an even higher level, there is no doubt in my mind that high-speed optical networking tools will go out of fashion anytime soon. It's true that wireless networking has taken the world by storm over the last decade, but even there, cell towers need to connect back to the internet backbone by the fastest and most cost-effective means possible. That means fiber-optic cables.
The upcoming switch to 5G cellular data networks will only increase the need for robust fiber connections, since each 5G tower will support both faster and more numerous data links than the aging 4G standard.
The upshot: Oclaro will bounce back
The only thing stopping Oclaro from making a full recovery would be if the company ran out of money before figuring out the Chinese market and the next-generation manufacturing issues. That's unlikely to happen, since Oclaro generates positive (and growing) free cash flow and EBITDA profits.
In the meantime, you can take advantage of the market's cautious view of Oclaro by locking in some attractive share prices.
Oclaro stock is trading at just 8.8 times trailing earnings today, among the lowest ratios the shares have ever seen. At the same time, the company sports sector-leading profit margins and earnings growth. Long story short: Oclaro is a steal at current prices.
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