Japan Display's (JPDYY) attempts to shift from its overreliance on Apple (AAPL) could be the start of an industry trend toward diversification and offer investors some value opportunities for the iPhone suppliers.
The Tokyo-based producer of screens for smart devices generates 53.7% of its revenue from Apple, making it the third-most-reliant supplier to the iPhone maker, according to FactSet. The company is said to be close to receiving around $900 million in financial support from state-controlled Innovation Network Corp. of Japan, after falling into losses and financing problems.
Since reports of a bailout first emerged in August, the company has vowed to boost the proportion of non-mobile devices to total production volume to more than 50% by 2021. Recent moves to back this statement include sample shipments of a curved LCD for automotives, as well as a new LCD designed for virtual-reality head-mount displays.
The decline reflects the danger of catering to a few select customers. Not only has the weakening momentum of the iPhone -- which accounts for more than 60% of Apple's revenue -- led to net losses amounting to $280 million last fiscal year for Japan Display, it has also wiped out 65% of its market value since the company's public listing in 2014. The stock is trading at 0.5x 12-month forward price-to-book ratio.
But Japan Display is just one of 19 firms that generate more than a quarter of their revenues from Apple, according to FactSet.
Among them is Cirrus Logic (CRUS) , the second-most-reliant supplier to Apple with a 66% sales exposure.
The maker of semiconductors for audio signal processing admits that it lacks diversification and that it could face financial deterioration if it fails to expand its customer and revenue bases. Also serving Motorola, Samsung, Sony and Ford, Cirrus generated 89% of its fiscal 2016 revenue from its 10 largest customers.
But the Austin, Texas-based company also said that in the same year, it diversified its customer base and expanded its product line to include chips for amplifiers and MEMS microphones. It also boosted its R&D spending by 36%.
The Nasdaq-traded stock, which has surged 67% in the past 12 months, is trading at a 12-month forward price earnings growth (PEG) ratio of just 0.7.
Knowles (KN) is another that presents opportunities. In 2015, the maker of acoustic components for mobile devices and consumer electronics depended on Apple for 25% of its revenue -- nearly two-thirds came from just 10 clients. The stock, which has dropped 2% in the last 12 months, is trading at a 12-month forward PEG ratio of 1.0.
The Itasca, Ill.-based company also admits that it derives a significant portion of revenues from a small number of mobile handset OEMs, and that it depends considerably on MEMS microphones.
But the company is also involved in more stable markets such as medical and life sciences, aerospace and telecom. Furthermore, besides Apple and Samsung, which account for 15%, no other client represents over 10% of its revenue.
Meanwhile, California companies like Glu Mobile (GLUU) and Invensense (INVN) , which attribute 52% and 40% of their sales, respectively on Apple, appear overvalued at this point. Both the San Francisco-based Glu Mobile, which develops games for smart devices, and the San Jose-based Invensense, which supplies motion tracking sensors, is trading at a 12-month forward PEG ratio of 4.1.
For some, transitions to other products and customers may not come so easily due to constraints from large clients like Apple.
"Our key customer relationships often require us to develop new products that may involve significant technological challenges," Cirrus said in its SEC filing. "Our customers frequently place considerable pressure on us to meet their tight development schedules."
Cirrus also said it faces pressure to cut prices, commit to exclusivity periods, during which it can only sell specific products or technology to that customer, and devote a substantial amount of resources to those relationships.
In Japan Display's case, Apple invested an unspecified amount in the Ishikawa plant in northwest Japan for manufacturing LCDs for its iPhone. The plant could also be used to make OLEDs, which Apple is likely to switch to for its iPhones for 2017. Indeed, Japan Display has also committed to continued development of OLEDs, which provide an advantage over LCDs in viewing angles and color contrast.
Japan Display could be well aware of the risk in concentrating its resources, but such strong business intervention by Apple no doubt puts it in an awkward position.
The key for these players in a fast-moving sector could be to secure independence as quickly as they can.
(Apple is held in Jim Cramer's charitable trust Action Alerts PLUS. See all of his holdings here.)