Applied Optoelectronics Jumps on Tall Order

When it comes to small companies, it doesn’t take much for revenue and earnings to make big moves. That’s just what’s happened for Applied Optoelectronics (NSDQ: AAOI), whose shares have jumped more than 18% over the past few days.

The company announced on Thursday that it received an order for more than 10,000 transceivers from a new large data center customer. The new buyer wasn’t named, but we do know it wasn’t Amazon, Alibaba, Baidu or Microsoft since the company already has existing relationships with them. The pricing on the sale wasn’t disclosed either, but given the volume of the order, it’s no small potatoes for a company that had $55 million in revenue in the second quarter. Plus, it should establish a long-term relationship with whoever the mystery company might be.

Applied Optoelectronics was added to our portfolio back in June because it looked like a solid takeover candidate to us. It has relatively little debt and was undervalued when it was added, though the shares have run up more than 60% since then. It has also grown sales at a better than 36% annual rate over the past five years, which this latest deal is likely to push higher.

Enterprise spending on data centers is expected to grow by about 14.5% annually over the next several years to more than $75 billion by 2020, so demand for Applied Optoelectronics’ products should grow at a similar pace. The biggest driver of that demand is cloud computing as more and more companies are embracing the power of big data to find new markets and improve existing products That, coupled with the company’s trove of patents on critical fiber optic switches and its $283 million market cap, makes it an attractive target for any of its larger competitors.

For instance, while it counts Cisco Systems as one of its customers, with nearly $7 billion of cash on hand it wouldn’t be a problem for Cisco to buy Applied Optoelectronics outright if it decided to. Considering that Cisco is already a leading supplier of networking equipment for data centers, Applied would be a nice tuck-in acquisition that would also break Cisco into a new niche. The patents owned by Applied would also give a company like Cisco a great base from which to develop new products. I’m not saying that’s going to happen, but it would make sense.

There are signs that something may be coming, though. Back in July one of the company’s directors, Alan Moore, spent over $1 million to purchase more than 100,000 shares of Applied Optoelectronics stock. That’s by no means an inconsequential purchase and it nearly doubled his holdings of company stock, leaving him with just over 5% of the company’s outstanding shares. While we have no way of knowing exactly what his motivation for the purchase was, though second quarter earnings came in much better than expected soon afterward, Moore clearly thinks the business’s prospects are looking pretty good.

Applied Optoelectronics is currently rated “Hold” since it’s trading above our target price, but we may bump that up down the road given its solid growth and takeover prospects.

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