Investors are grappling to understand what's taking place in the wild semiconductor sector. The group is bouncing in a wild ride, but many investors warn the volatility could be a signal of more earnings weakness to come this year.
AMD reported fourth quarter revenue and a first quarter outlook slightly below expectations on Tuesday, due to excess inventories of graphics chips. The company did forecast high single digit revenue growth for 2019 despite an anticipated drop in the first quarter.
"Semiconductors are the very definition of cyclicals so they got absolutely pounded when the market rolled over in December," said Daniel Niles, founding partner of AlphaOne Capital Partners.
The VanEck Vectors Semiconductor ETF, up 1.5 percent Wednesday, is up 18 percent from its Dec. 24 low. On Dec. 24, it was down 29 percent from its 52 week high in March. AMD alone is 34 percent above its December low. The shares were down more than 50 percent from its September high.
Companies "either missed the quarter, they lowered guidance or in most cases both. The majority of the stocks went up. You see this pretty frequently when investors are trying to call the bottom. With semiconductors having come down a lot over the course of the last year, it's pretty normal. You have to ask yourself whether the earnings revisions are over. I don't think they are," said Niles.
But that hasn't stopped investors from jumping in.
"The semis had looked washed out on valuation a few weeks back and now they look kind of middling," said Lori Calvasina, chief U.S. equities strategist at RBC. "I think that group had going for it is it got de-risked early. What I'm hearing from investors is it probably is a quarter or two too early fort he semis, but we're going to nibble now. I think a lot of people went in earlly and you had that big draft upwards. I'm sort of neutral right now. I would say I was more positive a few weeks ago."
Despite AMD's stock rally, analysts were questioning its revenue forecast, noting the guidance was very aggressive. While it expects improved margins and higher revenues for the year, it expects a slump in current first quarter revenue of $1.25 billion, a drop of 24 percent from last year.
"...the controversy will now undoubtedly hinge upon the achievability of that full year guide, which requires a back-half ramp that would make Evel Knievel nervous," wrote Bernstein analysts.
Baird analysts said the AMD outlook was aggressive, and they instead expect flat revenues for the year.
Some of the warnings from the sector have been macro in nature.