Have You Seen This Technology Bust the Status Quo?
Spintronics sounds like something out of kiddie cartoons or science fiction. By reading not just the charge but also the esoteric spin of electrons, you can pull off new electromagnetic stunts, including the creation of semiconductors and magnetic storage that's many times more efficient than what we have today.
But it isn't science fiction. Technology giants Honeywell (NYS: HON) and IBM (NYS: IBM) have been researching spintronics for more than a decade. You may have heard of the MRAM data storage technology that comes from spintronic effects; it's supposed to replace traditional data storage one fine day. If Big Blue and Honeywell are pouring millions of dollars into dragging this technology into the marketplace, it's a safe bet that mass-market commercial value will happen sooner or later. These giants expect a return on their investments.
In the shadow of these titans, you'll find spintronics expert NVE (NAS: NVEC) . The self-described "leader in the practical commercialization of spintronics" just reported third-quarter results, highlighting the commercial value of spintronics -- and the immature state of the technology.
Third-quarter sales stopped at just $6.2 million, down from $8 million a year ago. Not only is the addressable market for NVE's spintronic sensors and MRAM patents very small today, but the order flow is also very lumpy.
Investors looking for the next technology revolution may be reminded of OLED researcher Universal Display (NAS: PANL) . Like spintronics, OLED screens seemed like a fanciful dream only a couple of years ago. The company pulled in more research grants than commercial revenues, and yes, sales were very spotty indeed.
The biggest difference between the two technology revolutionaries is that Universal Display just started turning a profit as Samsung and others ramp up their OLED orders. NVE, on the other hand, started turning a profit in 2003 and never looked back. This quarter, earnings fell 32% year over year to $0.47 per share due to fixed costs and highly variable sales, but the ink remains black. It's hard to complain about 37% net margins in a bad quarter.
In other spintronics news, Freescale Semiconductor (NYS: FSL) subsidiary Everspin used the CES show to announce that Dell and LSI are using its MRAM in high-end storage controllers. And just to kick up the drama another notch, NVE is suing Everspin for patent infringement.
This spintronics stuff certainly isn't boring. Add NVE and Freescale to your watchlist so you don't miss a beat as this immature technology grows up. Or skip ahead to discover the next rule-breaking multibagger on our high-growth newsletter's scorecard.
At the time this article was published Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Universal Display but holds no other position in any of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of IBM. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Universal Display and Dell. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Check out Anders' holdings and bio, or follow him on Twitter and Google+. We have a disclosure policy.
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