Sunday share tips: IQE, MaxCyte
In his ‘Inside the City’ column for The Sunday Times, Ben Woods looked at the effect of Donald Trump’s posturing against Huawei on the chipmaking industry - particularly, wafer semiconductor technology minnow IQE.
He described the smartphone sector as being “in a fix”, with networks trying to get the public excited about impending 5G technology, while Trump’s actions against the Chinese telecoms technology giant keep “killing the mood”.
In recent weeks, the US administration has added Huawei to its so-called ‘Entity List’, restricting the ways in which American firms can do business with the company.
That led to concerns over Huawei’s future as a leading smartphone manufacturer, given it would make it difficult for it to use the official version of Google’s Android operating system, which in turn saw Vodafone and BT’s EE pull Huawei phones from their upcoming 5G launches in the UK.
Britain-based chip giant ARM, owned by Japanese tech conglomerate SoftBank, was forced to cut its ties with Huawei for similar reasons.
The AIM-traded IQE, valued at £555m, was keen to downplay the ban, however, noting that it could delay orders, with chief executive Drew Nelson trying to reassure shareholders that it would have a “limited impact” on sales in the mid-to-long term.
Markets weren’t entirely convinced, however, with IQE’s share price falling 4% on Friday to 70.25p.
Woods suggested that investors in IQE may not have the same appetite for risk that they once did, given they have been “burned before” after valuing the company at £1.4bn in 2017.
That was followed by an unprecedented slowdown in sales for new Apple iPhone devices - for which IQE makes the facial recognition sensors - with its shares now down 36% over the last 12 months.
Short sellers did have a hand in the action, too, after two players in that space - Muddy Waters and ShadowFall - raised questions about IQE’s accounting practices and finances, with the former accusing it of being an “egregious accounting manipulator”.
In a bid to quell concerns, Nelson roped in new auditors to check over the numbers, but even after that, around 12% of IQE shares remained out on loan according to figures from Markit.
Even amid all of that commotion, Ben Woods suggested IQE’s best days could still be ahead of it.
Given it was still the world’s biggest silicon wafer manufacturer, it was in an enviable position to benefit as 5G networks were rolled out across the globe.
“Demand for its tech could swell as 3D sensing expands into areas such as driverless cars,” Woods wrote.
“Analysts at Stifel have put a price target of 90p on IQE.
“Investors may want to wait until the Huawei fog lifts and more 5G investment starts flooding in. Hold.”
Over in the Mail on Sunday, Joanne Hart was also in the AIM market for her ‘Midas’ column, claiming that cell therapy was currently the flavour of the month in medical circles, with Maryland-based MaxCyte pioneering a different approach.
She said the London-listed, US-based firm used electric pulsed to deliver the disease-fighting molecules, including proteins, into the cells of a patient.
It was floated on AIM in March 2016 at 70p per share - a price that soon rocketed to more than 300p by April 2017, before floating back down to 161p now, with a fall of more than 20% in 2019 alone.
Hart described that as “unjustified”, saying that the shares should rebound.
She noted that the company was now working with all of the world’s top 10 pharmaceutical firms on a range of applications, using its proprietary ‘electroporation’ technology, having signed more than 70 agreements with Big Pharma - half of those involving trials with actual payments.
MaxCyte’s partners provided most of the funding for tests, trials, marketing and sales, and also paid the company as the programmes progressed.
That approach meant that the firm was making money, even if only one of its products has so far seen a commercial launch in a kidney cancer treatment programme in Japan.
Turnover had near-doubled over the last four years, to $16.7m last year from $9.3m, with Hart saying that further improvements were expected both this year and next, with new partners coming onboard and existing trials passing certain milestones.
She said that even more pertinently. MaxCyte’s technology could “revolutionise” treatments for a number of diseases, including ovarian, pancreatic and brain cancers, as well as hereditary illnesses including haemophilia and sickle-cell anaemia.
Approval for new products and innovative techniques did usually take years, but Hart noted that a number of regulators were recognising the potential of cell-based therapy and so could be more likely to accelerate that process in certain circumstances.
MaxCyte was also reportedly addressing two key concerns around cell therapy - the high cost, and the long time required, with a number of processes said to be “hugely expensive” and requiring a number of weeks to engineer.
The company was keen to bring down costs and improve the speed of care, with trials in that area described as “highly encouraging”.
Hart said that if just one of its partnership programmes reached the commercial stage, MaxCyte’s value would be shooting north once again, and with 70 programmes in development, there was a good chance at least one of those would succeed.
In the US, firm operating in the same field had been the subject of multibillion dollar takeovers, which made MaxCyte look a comparative bargain, being valued at less than £100m on the London market.
“MaxCyte is working with top drug groups and its shareholders include established names in finance such as Legal & General, BlackRock, Jupiter and Hargreave Hale,” Joanne Hart wrote.
“The shares deserve to be considerably higher than where they are now.
At 161p, the stock is a buy.”