The ad we’re looking at today came in from the Oxford Club, and at first it didn’t catch my eye because I assumed it was yet another re-marketing of their old “Hyper Fi” idea from last year… but, it turns out, today they’re hinting at something different.
Which is probably good, since that old Hyper-Fi stock agreed to be acquired last month — that stock was Ruckus Wireless (RKUS), and it is in the process of being acquired, pending all the usual approvals, etc., by Brocade (BRCD). That will mean a net gain for most RKUS shareholders who bought during the year or so that the Oxford Club was teasing the stock, but not a big one (the stock was around $10 when first teased, bounced around between $10 and $12 most of the year before dipping early this year in the market weakness, and the takeover is valuing the shares at about $12.50 now (it’s mostly a stock deal, and Brocade has been going down lately).
So what’s the new pitch? It’s not for making WiFi better, which was the spiel for RKUS… it’s for making wireless internet access free.
Here’s the intro:
“Starting July 17, 2016, a stunning technology breakthrough will change everything
“Wireless Internet access for Everyone… at No Cost….
“One small Silicon Valley company holds over 550 patents on the technology behind this $7 trillion “Free-Fi” revoution…
“We estimate its $45 stock could soar an extraordinary 846% starting just weeks from now…”
And, of course, we’re seasoned consumers of these kinds of marketing pitches — so we know that “soar an extraordinary 846% starting just weeks from now” is pretty much the same as saying “we think it will go up.” Don’t mistake the marketing driven deadline (July 17, 2016 in this case) for a real, guaranteed catalyst that will cause the stock to rise so dramatically. The reason to use a date in marketing messages like this is not to prove that they’re brilliant about predicting the future, but to get you to act now and subscribe now. The ad copywriters know that if you set the ad aside to think about it for a while, you’re much less likely to subscribe — they need a fairly near date that they can use, hopefully with at least a mostly straight face, as a key reason to buy the stock right this minute.
I don’t know if that date will end up being really important or not, but we can at least take away some of that urgency for you by reading the clues and identifying the stock… then you can take your time, think about it as deeply as you wish, and make your own decision (and, of course, you can decide to subscribe to the Oxford Club if you like — but you’ll probably have a better experience with any newsletter if you judge it on its merits and go in with an open mind instead of starting out with an ad-driven fire in your belly that gives you a blood lust for this presumably miraculous stock and the promise that 800% gains are coming your way).
So what else are we told about this stock?
First, we get the fairy tale:
“A stunning technical breakthrough is about to make wireless internet access available to every person in America…
“At ZERO cost.
“More than 150 million consumers can look forward to tearing up their hundred-dollar-a-month internet bills…
“And never paying them again.
“Thanks to this breakthrough, one small Silicon Valley company with over 550 key patents is going to become very, very rich…”
No, we’re not all going to be tearing up our broadband bills anytime soon. Sorry.
But yes, there is more and more free wi-fi available, and certainly the mobile internet and the “internet of things” are changing the way we access and gather data, so perhaps we’ll keep inching closer to that dream.
The urgency is created by the July 17, 2016 meeting of the IETF, which is the Internet Engineering Task Force — the Oxford Club folks indicate that this company’s “advanced technical details” will be reviewed at that meeting.
So what is it that our secret little company has invented? Here’s more from the ad:
“Key technology needed to bring Free-Fi to everyone everywhere is controlled by one small Silicon Valley company with over 550 patents.
“You see, it’s perfected an entirely new class of microscopic devices.
“These amazing Free-Fi microchips can act as internet access points virtually anywhere on Earth…
“And could soon eliminate the need for cable lines, in-home routers and thousands of cellular towers.
“This company’s tiny Free-Fi devices can be placed on highway signs and side-street poles… in national parks, stadiums and big city buildings…
“And they’ll send and receive wireless signals for more than 10 years – with NO external wires and NO external power needed.”
And though they do push that “free high speed access everywhere” idea in the ad, they do also back-pedal a little bit:
“When we talk about Free-Fi, do we mean the whole planet will suddenly have no-cost wireless access tomorrow?
“Of course not.
“I don’t believe that, and I wouldn’t expect you to either.
“But here’s what you can be sure of…
“In 2016, the world is going mobile at lightning speed….
“We can’t say for sure that Free-Fi is coming overnight.
“But we know it’s coming fast…
“And its impact cannot be overstated.”
What else do we get by way of hints about the specific company they’re teasing? Here are a few tidbits:
“An Opportunity to Turn $10K Into Almost $100,000
“The tiny Silicon Valley company at the center of the Free-Fi revolution has already seen over 50,000 of its “starter networks” installed in more than 120 countries worldwide, including the USA, Ireland, Spain and France….
“Within the next six years, we expect the company to produce over 3 billion new wireless devices to handle the Free-Fi revolution.
“Sales could explode 4,700% above their current figures….
“… we believe this stock will be up 846% or more within 24 months… and an extraordinary 4,600% or more when all is said and done.”
And we get a few hints about the birth of this company, which was apparently founded by a Berkeley professor…
“At the same time Apple was rolling out its clumsy Airport Wi-Fi router in 1999, some 52 miles north, another tech visionary was already thinking ahead…
“As a Berkeley electrical engineering professor, this man was especially intrigued by the potential of futuristic microscopic wireless devices.
“So, he wrote up a proposal for the deep-pocketed Department of Defense research agency DARPA.
“In it, he proposed building tiny devices the military could drop over battlefields…
“They’d contain miniature motion detectors to help track enemy movements…
“Much more importantly, they’d feature tiny batteries and tiny transmitters and receivers… so their data could be sent back to field commanders in real time…..
“In 2004, he put his money where his mouth was and founded his own company…
“The very company we’ve been talking about with all the Free-Fi patents today.”
I hadn’t heard that story before, but it does sound very much like the heart of the “internet of things” promise — sensors everywhere that monitor the physical world and generate valuable data.
And according to the ad, this wireless breakthrough uses the existing internet but a protocol that uses as little as 1% of the power of current technology, “producing wireless routers that can run solely off batteries for years”
And how will this all be “free?” Here’s a bit more from the ad:
“I believe Google, Facebook and all the companies backing universal wireless initiatives will essentially be able to put the big cell companies and internet providers out to pasture.
“Think of it like when Apple essentially killed the music industry by creating iTunes….
“But they ALL need the microscopic wireless routers that make it possible….
“Going forward, we’re projecting it will soon sell over 700 million new wireless devices to handle the Free-Fi revolution… creating $13 billion in new revenue.
“And the stock will follow suit.
“This could be your one chance to turn as little as $2,200 into a $100,000-plus jackpot as Free-Fi hits the mainstream.”
Enough clues for you? Well, it’s not a tiny company — they also do drop the hint that “As a member of the S&P 500, it has stunning books,” so it’s got a market cap of at least a couple billion dollars (the smallest companies in the S&P 500 have market caps in the $2.5 billion neighborhood… but careful about assuming the “stunning books” part — being in the index really just means you’re pretty big. Enron was in the S&P 500, and lots of companies with ugly balance sheets are in that index today).
And we’re also told the company has more than $1 billion “in the bank” and “over $500 million” in cash flow, and a new “87,000 square-foot production operation in Singapore” that they opened earlier this year to “prepare for the coming surge in demand.”
So who is this secret little company?
Thinkolator sez this is Linear Technology (LLTC), which is a midsize ($10 billion market cap) analog semiconductor company.
Why is it a match? Well, they did open up that 87,000 square foot expansion at their Singapore facility back in February… and, more importantly, Linear did acquire Dust Networks back in 2011, and it’s Dust Networks that was the original creation of Berkeley professor Kris Pister — an early, low-power sensor network that’s still a big part of Linear’s offerings using what they call “SmartMesh” for low power, high reliability industrial “internet of things” offerings.
And no, they don’t talk about being the basis for a new “Free-Fi” where everyone can watch their Netflix movies without paying for broadband, they’re very much focused on industrial uses. Maybe the capabilities of their designs and chips will bring revolutionary change eventually, I don’t know, but you won’t be able to tear up your Comcast or Verizon bill in July if you want to have broadband internet access.
Linear is a strong and healthy company right now — they do have $1.25 billion or so in cash, they do generate more than $500 million in cash flow each year (though they pay most of it out in the form of dividends — the current yield is close to 3%, paying out about 60% of earnings). And they have been growing revenues and earnings in recent years, though not consistently or dramatically (and the last quarter was a slowdown, a couple percent worse than the prior year’s March quarter).
It’s also pretty reasonably priced, though not necessarily cheap for a slow-growing analog semiconductor company — they’re priced at a little over 20X trailing earnings, and the analyst forecasts are for earnings growth of less than 10% in 2017, so it’s a lot more expensive than some other analog semi companies like NXPI who have bigger growth expectations, but is valued somewhat similarly to larger companies like Texas Instruments (TXN) or Analog Devices (ADI), and both of those also have low growth expectations.
So it’s a decent, pretty strong company — whether or not it’s worth the current valuation probably depends on whether or not their Dust Networks or other “Internet of Things” offerings end up becoming big growth businesses. Generating strong revenue growth without losing profit margin is tough in the chip business, where competitors lurk everywhere, and that “Dust” offering seems to be where they claim a lot of proprietary products and seem to have some strength. I don’t know if that’s genuinely true or not, I’m no expert on sensor or radio chips, or even on analog semiconductors more broadly, that’s just the general sense I get of the company and its offerings.
I’d personally consider this to be much stronger as an “internet of things” play with fairly quiet potential that’s building a foundation for a strong business on the industrial side for low-power, highly reliable sensor networks, and wouldn’t put much weight on that “Free-Fi Megatrend” as a reason to think about the stock, but perhaps I’m missing something. The stock has been pretty moribund for a couple years, so if there’s a revolution coming and Linear’s going to lead it, well… you probably haven’t missed it yet.
I’m sure there are many of you who have owned or researched LLTC in the past, and who no doubt know the company much better than I do after my 30 minutes of skimming their filings… so if you’ve got an opinion on Linear, please feel free to share with a comment below.