From brutal year to stellar start, regional tech stocks lifting sector

Children trying out Samsung Electronics' Galaxy S9 at its store in Seoul earlier this month. Samsung is expected to report downbeat fourth-quarter results on Jan 31.
Children trying out Samsung Electronics' Galaxy S9 at its store in Seoul earlier this month. Samsung is expected to report downbeat fourth-quarter results on Jan 31.PHOTO: REUTERS

Regional technology shares are staging a comeback and leading the rest of the sector higher.

After a brutal 21 per cent sell-off in the MSCI AC Asia Pacific Information Technology Index last year - the worst performance in a decade - semiconductor-related companies are clawing back gains.

That may come as a surprise after the latest round of disappointing results, but investors are looking ahead at a second-half recovery.

"It's that momentum - a lot of investors are thinking we are nearing a bottom," said Mr Marcus Shin, an analyst with Mizuho Securities in Tokyo. "Those who think a sector rebound is due in the second half are already making a move. There's no burden valuation-wise."

South Korea's SK Hynix, which posted its first operating profit decline in more than two years, said it would be nimble with investment spending. It sweetened its underwhelming results with a 50 per cent increase in dividend payouts, but Mr Shin noted its guidance on first-quarter results was "pretty bad" and a "shock".

Samsung Electronics, the world's largest memory-chip maker, is expected to report downbeat fourth-quarter results on Jan 31, after some analysts described its preliminary estimates as a "shocking" miss.

The MSCI gauge for technology stocks in Asia is up 7.8 per cent this year, clawing back US$77.6 billion (S$105 billion) in market value. Top contributors to the rebound are Samsung, Hynix, Japan's Hitachi and Tokyo Electron.

China's Internet giants have also been in recovery: Tencent Holding is up more than 8 per cent this year, while Alibaba Group Holdings' American depository receipts have risen 14 per cent.

"The rally in the segment is lifting Hong Kong tech stocks too," said Mr Kevin Chen, an analyst with China Merchants Securities HK. "While there's no clear signal of a recovery in the smartphone supply chain, AAC and Sunny stocks have dropped a lot earlier and investors who believe it's not going to get worse may have started short covering."

Elsewhere, investors have also shrugged off dim earnings reports and forecasts. ASML Holding's first-quarter sales forecast missed estimates due to a fire at a supplier, while Texas Instruments and Lam Research announced sales forecasts that trailed estimates. Shares of all three companies climbed.

To be sure, doubts remain whether the current rally is sustainable. Mr Shin forecast a 30 to 40 per cent drop in prices of dynamic random-access memory chips used in servers this quarter, compared with the previous quarter.

"We have yet to see all the bad news, so it's hard to think that this rally will just keep on going," he said. "But I do expect a dramatic recovery both in terms of earnings and share prices in the second half."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2019, with the headline 'From brutal year to stellar start, regional tech stocks lifting sector'. Print Edition | Subscribe