Watching for a surprise from rock-steady PMC-Sierra (PMCS) is like covering a Presidential vacation, on the off chance something besides golf happens. One day there may be drama from PMC-Sierra. Not today.
I attend a presentation by communications-chip maker PMC-Sierra the way a White House reporter hangs out near the President's vacation retreat. She's there only in case the head of state suffers a heart attack; I'm there on the off chance CFO John Sullivan suggests in passing that the company is seeing major weakness in the Internet infrastructure business.
The point is that nearly nothing comes out of one of these sessions. The President doesn't die. And PMC doesn't warn that its torrid growth rate is about to slow. But I go and learn -- again -- why go-go investors and serious techheads alike are gaga over this company.
PMC-Sierra supplies chips to
and nearly every start-up that plans to enter the networking-equipment business. (Its early relationship with
only broadened its business with Cisco when Cisco gobbled up Cerent.) The company does not compete in the broadband access market (dominated by
) or the wireless market (where
is the 900-lb. gorilla). It racks up 80%-plus gross margins on its networking-oriented products and is revenue is growing at a 50% rate -- to a forecasted $772 million in 2001, according to
So PMC-Sierra's stock mostly goes up, except when Lucent blows a quarter or when folks renew their concerns about valuations. At $22 billion in market value, PMC trades for 137 times the $1.15 per share H&Q expects it to earn next year.
The technology is mind-boggling, and I'd guess I'm not nearly the only person in the room not intimately knowledgeable about "high-density frame-relay port cards," to name one product Sullivan discussed. All you really need to know, Sullivan says, is that the potential of its whizziest products has yet to be realized because customers are still designing the gear that will use them. "The best is ahead of us," says the CFO.
Here's one last thing to like about PMC-Sierra: It aims to invest between 22% and 24% of its revenue in research and development -- and to maintain operating profits of 34% to 36%. To put that in perspective, consider that
plows about 11% of its revenue into R&D.
The stock? Oh, it's down with the rest of the market, of course. PMC-Sierra's shares fell 6% to 157 11/16 Tuesday. But that's not really news. At least no more than the President's catching a cold.
Adam Lashinsky's column appears Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Lashinsky writes a column for Fortune called the Wired Investor, and is a frequent commentator on public radio's Marketplace program. He welcomes your feedback at