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An exclusive CNBC survey of 18 analysts covering technology stocks in the Asia Pacific region has identified two key investment opportunities for 2014: Chinese internet plays and Apple supply-chain stocks.
The survey requested that analysts provide forecasts on their top picks for 2014, including price targets, positives and possible headwinds.
Chips on the table
Despite concerns of weakening demand at the top-end of the smartphone sector, certain supply chain stocks are expected to bask in the glow of the "Apple effect" in 2014. Survey results show Catcher Technology is the most popular supply chain stock, with both Hon Hai and TSMC also favored.
Shares in Catcher Technology, which trades on the Taiwan Stock Exchange, have risen about 14 percent this year after a strong 2013 performance. Citi analyst Wei Chen expects the company to be "the key beneficiary from Apple's latest supply chain strategy for the next 2-3 years on higher order allocation for the iPhone and iPad casing business," giving it a price target of NT$279 ($9.15) per stock, the highest of those surveyed.
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Kirk Yang of Barclays also likes the stock, forecasting "Market share gains for Apple (iPhone) in 2014, plus the upside from higher margins, thanks for its strong technology and healthy industry demand in metal casings." Barclays had the most conservative price target of those surveyed at NT$235.
According to Reuters, 7 out of 26 brokers rate the stock as a buy, while 13 have it on outperform. Catcher is currently trading at a price-to-earnings ratio of 12.45 compared with a sector average of 15.63.
After last year's volatile price swings, shares in Hon Hai have been gaining ground in 2014, up 7.7 percent year to date. The company is a key supplier and assembler of many Apple products, including the iPhone and iPad.
Fubon Securities analyst Arthur Liao expects the "Apple iPhone 6 will trigger sales momentum for Hon Hai in the second half of the year. Despite this, Fubon has the most conservative price target of those CNBC surveyed at NT$89, with weaker-than-expected iPhone 6 demand cited as the major headwind.
Revenue growth is another concern. In a research note, Bernstein analysts said despite seeing flat revenue growth for Hon Hai in 2013, they forecast an improvement in operating margins and a better revenue growth profile this year.
Reuters' broker poll reveals 6 out of 24 brokers have this stock on the equivalent of a Buy rating, while 10 have it on Outperform. Hon Hai is currently trading at a price to earnings ratio of 11.61, versus a sector average of 28.97, according to Reuters.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) has made a name for itself with leading-edge technology and is set to benefit from joining Apple's supply chain for the first time in 2014.
Steven Pelayo from HSBC expects "a combination of Apple opportunity, leveraging 29nm, and steep ramp of 20nm to drive both revenue and margins" in 2014. The major risks include "worsening end demand and margin pressures from potential excess capacity". Shares, which are listed on the Taiwan Stock Exchange, have risen more than 11 percent this year.
Daiwa had the highest price target of the analysts surveyed by CNBC at NT$128. It cited "strong end-product demand and TSMC's improving fundamentals (a leader in the 20nm process) and expected earnings momentum due to strong 2Q14 revenue growth". Nine out of 33 brokers rate the stock as a Buy, while 15 have it on Outperform, according to Reuters. TSMC is currently trading at a price-to-earnings ratio of 15.92, compared to a sector average of 15.63.
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China's internet stocks were on fire in 2013. Barclays research reveals overall performance was up 111.3 percent, compared to HSCI and NASDAQ at +38 percent and +2.9 percent, respectively. Despite these extensive gains, many analysts surveyed by CNBC still have internet plays at the top of their buy lists. Both Baidu and Tencent appeared in the top five lists of more than 60 percent of the respondents focused on China internet stocks. Qihoo 360 also ranked highly, factoring on half of the lists.
After shares rose 71 percent on the NASDAQ last year, Chinese internet giant Baidu has faced profit taking in 2014, with shares down about 15 percent. Despite this drop off, analysts surveyed by CNBC expect big things from Baidu following recent investments in PC search and mobile. Standard Charted analyst Betty Dai says she sees a "34 percent share price upside potential for Baidu over the next 12 months", adding that "mobile search monetization could result in earnings revisions and a re-rating"
Of the analysts surveyed by CNBC, Chao Wang of Nomura has the highest price target at $231. According to Reuters, 13 out of 34 brokers rate the stock as a Buy, with a further 13 rating it as an Outperform. Baidu has a price-to-earnings ratio of 31.22, more than double the sector average of 15.51.
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Despite recent pressure on China's internet plays, HongKong-listed shares in Tencent are still up 8.4 percent year to date, after rising more than 92 percent in 2013.
BOIC analyst Thomas Chong likes Tencent's latest strategic investment in JD.com, seeing it as "a win-win scenario" for both companies. It also expects Tencent's "mobile ecosystem to become the partner of choice for quality internet companies in China." Tencent is expected to benefit from solid growth in gaming revenue, with rapid growth also forecast in the company's advertising and ecommerce divisions. According to Reuters, 13 out of 37 brokers rate Tencent at a Buy, while 17 have it as Outperform.
Tencent has a price to earnings ratio of 53.34, more than 3 times the sector average of 15.88 - Chao Wang of Nomura says despite its high P/E, "Tencent is still one of the best proxies of mobile internet investment, in our opinion". Nomura has the highest target price of analysts surveyed at 750 Hong Kong dollars, while Standard Chartered has the most conservative target at 456.27 Hong Kong dollars.
After rising over 175 percent in 2013, shares in Qihoo 360 have been under pressure in recent weeks, but are still up 16 percent year to date. Echo He from Maxim Group says Qihoo "is one of the fastest growing large Chinese internet companies, with two major growth drivers in search and mobile game revenue."
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Meanwhile, CICC analyst Haofei Chen expects Qihoo's mobile game revenue to rise 300 percent, while total mobile game revenue may reach 21 billion yuan ($3.4 billion). Its search is also expected to increase market share to 30 percent."
Both analysts warn that intensifying competition from the likes of Baidu, Tencent and Kingsoft could put this growth at risk.
Of the analysts surveyed by CNBC, Nomura and Maxim have the highest price targets, both with a call of $130. CICC's Haofei Chen has the most conservative price target at $100. According to Reuters, 11 out of 26 brokers rate Qihoo as a buy, while a further 9 have it on outperform. Qihoohas a price-to-earnings ratio of 123.97 – compared to the sector average of 15.51.