I certainly don’t mean to impugn those without sight or hearing, but if you can read or listen, and have ever given your email address to any kind of financial website, chances are pretty good that you’ve been pitched this week about the “Chi-Tab” by Frank Curzio for his pricey Phase 1 newsletter at Stansberry and Associates.
The ad is long and full of interesting stories, as most of them are — and it is very light on specifics, which serves mostly to make your friendly neighborhood Gumshoe work a bit harder than usual. I confess that I did have to dust the snow off the Thinkolator for this one.
The basic pitch is that tablet computers, which they tease as “Chi Tabs”, will be a huge market, particularly as firms fight to sell them to the emerging Chinese consumer. This includes the iPad, of course, but also all the competitors that we have seen so far and will see in far larger numbers in the year ahead … so probably half of the ad is about this general premise: tablets are irresistible, and we’ve always yearned for this kind of simple computer, but only recently has technology caught up to demand to develop desirable tablets that people around the world will clamor for.
I won’t argue with that, and it’s not news — it may or may not work out for all the tablet companies out there, but clearly this segment of the market is quashing the short-lived “netbook” lite laptop, and maybe it will replace the idea of a desktop computer for emerging market consumers who are currently using their cell phones to access the web.
And then we start to get allusions to the one stock that Curzio is teasing as his play on the “Chi Tab”:
“The most important factor of all, is that it doesn’t matter which one of these 25 companies wins the ‘Chi–Tab’ race because we’ve found one tiny firm, which could easily shoot up by many multiples – no matter what.
“You see, this Chinese–based company makes a highly specialized microchip that controls a critical function in the “Chi–Tab.”
“I won’t get into the details of this function. It’s that specialized. But let’s just say without it, the computer wouldn’t operate. That’s why this firm has protected every conceivable aspect of their technologies. For instance, they have over 606 patents worldwide. And over 770 pending!”
OK, so not a lot of clues, but there are a few in there that might be useful, particularly the patent stuff.
Perhaps a few more crumbs for us sleuths, Frank?
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“The bottom line is, no company who’s serious about dominating the Chinese “Chi–tab” market can even compete without the technology this company specializes in.
“That’s why it’s clients already include Acer, Apple, Dell, Fujitsu, Hewlett–Packard, Lenovo, LG Electronics, NEC, Samsung, Sharp, Sony and Toshiba, just to name a few.”
And then we get the one clue that provides a real definitive answer:
“According to one analyst, the more ‘Chi–Tabs’ sold, the better this small company will do: ‘The main thing is, [the company] is much smaller… So even selling a few million [‘Chi–Tab’s’] makes an enormous difference in its ultimate revenues and profits.'”
The person quoted here isn’t a traditional Wall Street analyst, but he is certainly a well-followed writer. And just to keep you squirming for a moment longer, let me toss in the only other clues that I saw sprinkled in this long letter/presentation:
“In the next few months, TWO of the largest computer manufacturers in the world are planning to launch their versions of the ‘Chi–Tab’ in China…
“I won’t name names… but these guys are both FORTUNE 500 companies…
“And – get this – our tiny ‘Chi–Tab’ specialist supplies both of these companies!”
Do you have room for one last clue? We’re also told that this company has a market cap of $233 million — I don’t know what day they measured this, but the ad is brand new this week, we should be able to assume that it’s still within shouting distance of that number.
So which semiconductor company is this that’s apparently got some kind of hot “Chi-Tab” technology?
From those clues, the mighty, mighty Thinkolator tells us that this must be … O2Micro (OIIM)
There are a few areas where this comes up as an odd match — O2Micro, for example, claims that they have thousands of patents, not the 606 granted and 770+ pending that the teaser tells us about. Their big area where they apparently have expertise and a nice patent position is in power control, both for powering devices and, more specifically, for powering LCDs efficiently. So that would certainly be a key for tablet manufacturers, though I have no idea whether their patents or technologies are any better than anyone else’s — it seems unlikely that their way of powering an LCD is the only way, since if it was they’d be a lot bigger.
But we can get to the 606 and 770+ numbers from public sources — there was a SeekingAlpha republished bit of analysis on OIIM that claimed 606 patents for this company and 775 pending patents, you can see it here, those numbers are from 2009. If you want the actual reported numbers from the company, in their last quarterly report from about a month ago they claimed, “O2Micro International maintains an extensive portfolio of intellectual property with 15,621 patent claims granted, and over 16,000 more pending.”
And that quote from an analyst? That was basically about how this company can move more than Apple, because it’s a lot smaller than Apple, another of the arguments that Curzio was making in the ad. The analyst in this case is James Altucher, and the quote is from a blog post that he made for the Wall Street Journal — you can see the whole article, “Three Tech Companies I Like Better than Apple,” right here, but the salient quote without redactions is:
“02Micro International (OIIM) does the LED lighting in the iPad. The more iPads Apple sells, the better 02Micro will do. The main thing is, 02Mirco is much smaller than Apple. So even selling a few million iPads makes an enormous difference in its ultimate revenues and profits. And the company trades as if it were a virtual bankruptcy. It trades for only two times cash.”
That’s still pretty close to being true, by the way — the blog post came out in July, but OIIM still has more than $3 in cash per share and no debt, and the share price is below $8. Not two times cash, but pretty close to it, and if you take out the net cash position the stock is trading for just about 1X sales, which is very low for a profitable company (net profit margin is around 8% over the last twelve months). The stock goes for about 1.5X reported book value right now, also quite inexpensive.
So that must mean there are concerns of some kind, right? Perhaps even beyond just the basic worries that you’d have about any tiny stock in the brutally competitive semiconductor business? Probably, but I don’t know specifically what they are. They discontinued a line of network security products to focus on their power supply and control products last year, which had some impact on the numbers, and according to management commentary it sounds like they probably had front-loaded sales last year as customers restocked, though they issued some generic optimistic statements at the end of the fourth quarter earnings report — this is the quote from CEO Sterling Du that they offer by way of 2011 expectations:
“The year began on a high note and slowed down as the inventory correction ran its course. As we enter 2011, the supply chain looks much healthier and our products are well positioned to address both core markets and new areas alike. We’re looking forward to strong sales of power products and ramping up our business in new markets.”
The market cap is in the ballpark — it’s up to about $290 million right now with the stock at $7.90, but the shares were 15-20% or so lower less than a week ago and were near $6 before earnings in late January (Curzio has already issued this recommendation/report to current subscribers, apparently, though the S&A conference call to discuss it isn’t until next week, so perhaps those subscribers piled in and helped drive the shares higher).
And I have to leave you there — given the shortness of real clues there’s always some question, but the specific quote from Altucher helps me to be quite confident that this must be the stock Phase 1 is teasing. I didn’t know anything about OIIM before today, and I still have just the quick reaction of “looks cheap” and a basic understanding of what they do, which clearly includes a lot of power and battery management stuff that’s completely unrelated to tablets and consumer electronics. I have seen at least one person say that their chips power the LCD for the iPad, which if true (Apple usually tries to keep supplier agreements very hush hush), and if they have a competitive advantage that Apple can’t shift to another supplier or hack away at OIIM’s margins, could certainly help their numbers as iPad sales continue to go nuts … but I certainly don’t know if all the “Chi-Tab” makers will be forced to beat a path to O2Micro’s door. If you know this company or have any insight into the business, I’m sure we’d all be delighted to hear it — the comment box below isn’t there just for looks, you know.