TCS Daily

Wireless Bargains?

By James K. Glassman - June 19, 2000 12:00 AM

This is a column for long-term investors who believe that wireless communication will become a virtual necessity of modern life. If you believe, as I do, that eventually almost everyone will be chatting and web-surfing with small, portable devices, then there may be an opportunity to capitalize on this trend.

Even after the recent rebound in tech stocks, many tech firms are still trading well below their highs, and wireless firms are no exception. One of the most intriguing of the recently humbled companies is Qualcomm (QCOM), a stock market darling in 1999. After momentum investors succeeded in driving the price up to $200 per share early this year, the stock has fallen all the way back to a recent $61. I believe the market overreacted in both directions.

Recently, the stock has been hit with a devastating one-two punch by the NASDAQ downturn and bad news from Asian markets. A China deal seems to carry less potential than originally thought and sales seem likely to slow in Korea due to changes in government telecom policy there.

Despite the bad news, there's a lot to like about Qualcomm. This Glassman tech 30 company has been growing earnings at a rapid pace and it owns a patent on the digital CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology used in a growing number of wireless phones and devices. Wireless devices are on their way to being ubiquitous, so it's hard to see how Qualcomm doesn't thrive in the coming era.

Another wireless telecom stock that's taken its lumps in recent months is AT&T (T). The company currently uses a competing standard to CDMA in its network, but AT&T is also likely to benefit from consumers' embrace of wireless communication. AT&T already has more than 10 million wireless customers, and looks like a bargain at a recent $34.19 per share, almost 44% below its 52-week high and less than 18 times earnings. Of course, this is not just a wireless company. Last week AT&T became the country's largest cable operator and remains the biggest name in long distance. You may have read about AT&T's recent offering of a separate tracking stock for its wireless business. AT&T still owns 84.4% of AT&T Wireless Group, so the success of the wireless business will accrue to AT&T shareholders. If you'd like more of a pure play with the wireless business, you might consider investing in the tracking stock (symblom: AWE).

Two more companies that could represent wireless bargains are Motorola (MOT) and, for the really aggressive among you, Geoworks (GWRX). Motorola manufactures cell phones and other communications gear. This telecom giant has stumbled recently to $34.38 per share from a high of $61.54, but has a terrific long-term track record. Geoworks is a small company that makes software for wireless web devices. From a high of almost $55, GWRX recently traded at a more reasonable $14.63.

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