Bear of the Day: Uni-Pixel (UNXL)


October 14, 2013 |

Uni-Pixel (UNXL) designs and develops functional electronic conductive films and durable wear resistance films used in sensors and display applications for consumer and industrial products. The $200 million company had virtually no revenues in 2012 and is projected to have only $21 million this year.

Uni-Pixel's patented technology, the Time Multiplexed Optical Shutter (TMOS), can be used in mobile phones, digital cameras, notebook computers, televisions, as well as display and interactive technologies in the energy, transportation and entertainment industries.

The future of touch, sensor, and gesture technologies looks bright, with Oppenheimer projecting the consumer gesture control market to be the fastest growing segment as it expands fivefold from $850 million in 2013 to over $4 billion by 2017. That's a compound annual growth rate of 50%!

But the recent backslide in sales at UNXL has forced analysts to cut 2013 earnings estimates in the past two months from an expected gain of $0.46 to a loss of 5 cents. And just last week, that profit outlook got cut in half again with the consensus now at a loss of 10 cents for the year.

What Future Do the Analysts See?

To be fair, next year's estimates look spectacular by comparison with the consensus only being lowered to EPS of $3.13 from $3.38, which from minus 10-cents would be a stunning 3,000% leap in earnings. But with only 4 analysts providing estimates for next year, maybe they are still doing their homework.

Williams Financial Group published a research report after they hosted Uni-Pixel CEO Reed Killion on a conference call October 2. They project a sharp upturn in revenues next year with their current estimate at 123.5 million. Here's what the analysts, who have a $45 price target on UNXL shares, had to say...

"In our opinion, the call provided further encouragement that UniPixel is making progress toward generating production revenue during the fourth quarter. While, the company was unable to meet its self-imposed October 1st target for qualification, waiver, or purchase order we do believe significant headway has been made that should yet result in the near-term granting of the qualification waiver, a purchase order, and some level of Q4 volume revenue."

They also described the current uncertainty about new orders this way...

"Reed did name Intel (INTC) as its ecosystem partner, which has been widely speculated following UNXL’s inclusion in several Intel touch-related events. When discussing the likely near term PC-partner waiver and purchase order, he followed with anticipation of 'another purchase order from our ecosystem partner in the near-future.' It isn’t yet clear as to whether this order would come from Intel, or via an Intel relationship, but regardless UNXL believes additional orders are likely in short order."

The Products

The Woodlands, Texas-based company has two key products, UniBoss and Diamond Guard. I went on the company website to learn more and found these descriptions...

UniBoss is a roll-to-roll or continuous flow printed electronics manufacturing process that offers high fidelity replication of surface micro structures, advanced micro-optic structures, and conductive elements on thin film. The UniBoss™ technology is currently focused on bringing world-class cost and functional performance to projected capacitive touch sensor used in smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers and industrial and commercial control interfaces.

Diamond Guard is an optically clear specialty hard coat resin that provides near glass like performance when coated on polymer films such as polyethylene terephthalate, polycarbonate, and poly methyl methacrylate, and display polarizer films. Typical Diamond Guard applications include resistive touch sensors, cover glass replacement for consumer products, membrane and capacitive switches, and automotive and appliance decorative films.

I also found some videos demonstrating these technologies as UniBoss is apparently used in the Microsoft (MSFT - Free Report) Surface tablet. The video was not very impressive for a public technology company. I consider myself a caveman of technology and I was embarrassed for them. Go there and see for yourself.

Wait for the Estimates to Turn

As always with Zacks #5 Rank stocks, there's a reason that about 220 names occupy the basement of earnings momentum in a sea of 4400. This bottom 5% of stocks has disappointed analyst sufficiently to warrant downward revisions to estimates.

This is also evident in the number of EPS misses, which average about 28% for the last four quarters. In what appears to be a remarkable touch technology, there must be either a sales or a strategy execution problem, or both. The key now with UNXL if you are looking for a turnaround before buying or selling the shares is to watch the earnings reports and the estimates that follow.

Oppenheimer believes current mainstream interfaces such as keyboard and mouse will maintain their near-term dominance and that touch interface will see the largest market share growth and revenue opportunities. But you have to pick the right companies in this space.

I recently went with one of the winners, Synaptics (SYNA - Free Report) , for a 20% gain in my Follow The Money portfolio. SYNA is a clear leader in the evolution of touch technology owing to its robust product road map and big customers like Samsung. Oppenheimer believes that Omnivision (OVTI) and Invensense (INVN) also stand to benefit from adoption of gesture control, but the current market may be too fragmented to produce substantial growth.

Uni-Pixel could be an important player some day, but we need to see the hard numbers first. If sustainable sales start rolling in, there will be plenty of time to become an investor here. Next year's estimates, if they pan out will make the company an eye-opening opportunity. But that's an "if" we need to wait for.

Kevin Cook is a Senior Stock Strategist for Zacks where he runs the Follow The Money portfolio.

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