GT Advanced Earnings Call Signals Sapphire Ahead for Apple

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- GT Advanced (GTAT) has been one of the most hyped tech stocks in 2014. It's up 76% for the year. Thursday it closed at $15.36, up 2.37% on a day when the rest of the market sagged and over 76% for the year to date.

Although it signed an agreement with Apple (AAPL) last year to build a sapphire-producing plant within a property already owned by Apple, most analysts didn't really pay much attention to the company, which had about a $1 billion market capitalization coming into 2014.

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The stock traded in the $8 range at the beginning of this year. It's reached as high as $20 a few weeks ago, but then slipped into the $13 range earlier this month. After this week's earnings call, though, the stock is back above $15.

Why the nervousness among investors?

Well, until we know there's really sapphire in the new iPhone 6 phones coming this Fall, it's hard for GT Advanced investors to give the company full credit.

Instead, the sell side has come out with many skeptical pieces in the weeks leading up to this week's earnings, questioning whether sapphire was going to be included in the new iPhone 6 phones. Some believe there have been problems at Apple's Mesa, Ariz., plant in producing the sapphire boules required to make the sapphire covers in large volumes. Others say that sapphire won't be included at all in the iPhone 6, only the iWatch expected later in the year.

When Corning (GLW) reported earnings last week, GT shares sank right away because Corning said that its Gorilla Glass -- Apple's current alternative to sapphire -- would grow sales by 20% next year. Even though Corning didn't say anything specific about Apple or sapphire, investors reacted to the news by selling GT because they concluded that any growth for gorilla glass must be bad for sapphire.

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Other analysts have worried that GT won't be able to produce enough sapphire in time for Apple to sell the iPhone 6 -- when it was released last year. So they expect two different iPhone release dates: one in September for a smaller iPhone 6 and one later in the Fall for the larger screen iPhone 6. It's expected among these analysts that GT will be able to produce enough sapphire for the later larger screened iPhone, along with the iWatch.

There are other analysts who simply believe there are no sapphire production issues and GT will be fine to meet all of Apple's sapphire needs.

What we learned during the GT earnings call this week is, while no specifics about Apple, their guidance that their 2014 revenues would come in at the low end of their prior guidance but their earnings would be at the high end. They also outlined that they'd receive their final payment for setting up the sapphire plant from Apple by the end of October for $139 million.

GT's revenue went up substantially from $112 million to $182 million.

The company also said it continued to expect 80% of 2014 revenue to come from sapphire and a large fourth quarter.

Management spent quite a long time describing the Merlin and Hyperion opportunities. These relate to new products from GT's solar business and potential for other new businesses. Most investors excited about GT are only excited about the Apple opportunity. Yet, it is these other new products that I find have the most long-term potential for GT's stock as we go into 2015 and then 2016.

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The bottom line here is that there were no signs from the GT earnings call of any kind of delay in the company's ability to be able to ship sapphire to Apple in time to sell it starting with a September announcement date of the next iPhone.

Just after the call, we learned that the next iPhone will be announced on Sept. 9. GT investors -- based on the price action in the last few days -- assume that will bring news about an indestructible sapphire cover. If they're right, the stock has much further upside.

At the time of publication, the author was long GTAT, although positions may change at any time.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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TheStreet Ratings team rates APPLE INC as a Buy with a ratings score of B+. TheStreet Ratings Team has this to say about their recommendation:

"We rate APPLE INC (AAPL) a BUY. This is driven by several positive factors, which we believe should have a greater impact than any weaknesses, and should give investors a better performance opportunity than most stocks we cover. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its revenue growth, largely solid financial position with reasonable debt levels by most measures, notable return on equity, expanding profit margins and solid stock price performance. Although the company may harbor some minor weaknesses, we feel they are unlikely to have a significant impact on results."

Highlights from the analysis by TheStreet Ratings Team goes as follows:

  • Despite its growing revenue, the company underperformed as compared with the industry average of 8.9%. Since the same quarter one year prior, revenues slightly increased by 6.0%. Growth in the company's revenue appears to have helped boost the earnings per share.
  • Although AAPL's debt-to-equity ratio of 0.26 is very low, it is currently higher than that of the industry average. Along with the favorable debt-to-equity ratio, the company maintains an adequate quick ratio of 1.18, which illustrates the ability to avoid short-term cash problems.
  • The return on equity has improved slightly when compared to the same quarter one year prior. This can be construed as a modest strength in the organization. When compared to other companies in the Computers & Peripherals industry and the overall market, APPLE INC's return on equity exceeds that of the industry average and significantly exceeds that of the S&P 500.
  • 44.56% is the gross profit margin for APPLE INC which we consider to be strong. It has increased from the same quarter the previous year. Along with this, the net profit margin of 20.69% is above that of the industry average.
  • Investors have apparently begun to recognize positive factors similar to those we have mentioned in this report, including earnings growth. This has helped drive up the company's shares by a sharp 47.87% over the past year, a rise that has exceeded that of the S&P 500 Index. Regarding the stock's future course, although almost any stock can fall in a broad market decline, AAPL should continue to move higher despite the fact that it has already enjoyed a very nice gain in the past year.

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