IQE PLC - Semiconductor Wafer Pioneer

Writen by Helaine Kang

IQE is a leading global supplier of advanced semiconductor wafers that are used in various applications ranging from mobile communications to industrial power. The company boasts a diversified global customer base and a unique IP portfolio with over 150 patents that enables the firm to provide a unique service to its customers. Headquartered in Cardiff, Wales, IQE shares were often misunderstood or underappreciated by investors in the past. However, as the company continued to deliver healthy growth winning volume contracts for new technologies (e.g. VCSEL), the share price nearly tripled in 2017 and the company successfully placed new shares raising £95m in November. Recent reports published by funds with short positions questioning IQE’s accounting with regard to profit and cash flow contribution from its joint ventures sent the stock price down by 45% from its November high. That said, the company rejected the allegation with the statement saying that the information in the short sellers report is “either factually inaccurate or has previously been disclosed in IQE’s annual reports and financial statements”. The company also appointed KPMG as a new auditor replacing PwC as of 12th February saying “the company holds itself to the highest standards of transparency, governance and integrity”. We find the management responses were timely and expect the share price to be stabilised going forward.

While IQE does not compete in commoditised semiconductor market, greater than expected price cuts can lead to margin erosion. Historical price drops for the past 10 years averages at c.5% and the company has successfully protected profitability by improving efficiency and sales mix. We find the key risk lies in end market development. Given the company’s long-term R&D commitment to new technologies, forecasting new application market development and end demand is beneficial but an extremely difficult task. Longer than expected market development or slower demand could hinder the growth of IQE. As for foreign currency, the company is largely exposed to USD transaction. However, the net impact from currency move appears limited as they are naturally hedged.


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