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Share Watch: Electronics firm AMS steering towards future in self-drive cars



Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you are a whizz on technology, algorithms are your meat and drink and you will know all about sensor solutions, be they in optical, imaging or in the audio sphere. And you'll be perfectly at home with the company we are examining today, electronic supplier AMS.

If, on the other hand, all you want is to find a suitable punt on an interesting European company operating what we call a 'business for the future', AMS warrants a second look.

From an investor point of view the technology sector, though hard to understand, cannot be ignored. AMS would have been one of the early European responses to the technology challenge.

Founded in 1981 as a joint venture between America Micro Systems and Austrian outfit Voestalpine AG, the Austrians soon took full control and, in the early 1990s, it became one of the first 'techies' to gain a stock market listing. Today it is quoted on the Swiss exchange and has a market value of €3bn.

The company designs and supplies electronic components including facial technology that are used in Apple iPhones, most smart phones, smart homes and buildings, industrial automation, medical technology and driver-assisted cars, so it is obvious why the markets rate AMS.

It employs 9,000 people with production sites in Austria, the Philippines and Singapore and generates revenues of €1.4bn. The group now is busy trying to smooth out the wrinkles in a takeover situation involving the German firm Osram.

Consumer business is AMS's largest earner, generating some €1bn. Because its electronic components are found in most consumer products, it is no surprise 70pc of sales are in the Asia Pacific region.

In the auto business it supplies light detection sensors for self-driving cars that measure the distance and position of surrounding objects. Its medical business is based on components for digital X-rays and images. These divisions account for €420m of group revenues.

The Austrian chip maker and sensor producer spends up to one fifth of its revenues on research and development, but it also uses technology acquisitions as a tool to supplement its own efforts.

Three years ago it acquired Singapore-based Heptagon, a global micro-optics company. A year later it purchased a leader in surface emitting lasers and last year snapped up a Swiss specialist in face recognition software.

Last week AMS failed in its €4.5bn bid to acquire Osram, following a bidding war with private equity groups.

Osram at one time made light bulbs (sold to a Chinese firm). Today it generates half of its revenue from the auto sector, but problems in the Chinese auto market have led to a series of profit warnings. Osram shares plunged from €80 to €25 at one point but have recovered.

AMS's bid for Osram would reduce its reliance on Apple and other consumer producers. It also would accelerate AMS entry into self-driving autos. Although its bid failed, AMS is Osram's single-largest shareholder with a 20pc stake.

AMS says it remains committed to completing the takeover but German law forbids a bid unless Munich-based Osram gives its consent; there surely is more to this story.

AMS revenues last year increased 34pc to €1.4bn due primarily to an exceptional rise in the consumer business. Unfortunately its operating profits fell regardless. However its auto, industrial and medical business had solid performances.

Some investors are relieved the Osram bid failed, citing the high price of the offer, and feel the acquisition would have been financially stressful for a concern already with high debt.

The shares trade at the lower end of 40 Swiss francs, half of its yearly high.

Having fallen short with Osram and competing in a saturated smartphone market, I wouldn't be rushing to buy AMS shares just now.

Nothing in this section should be taken as a recommendation, either explicit or implicit, to buy any shares mentioned.

Irish Independent