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Look To The West: Western Digital Corp. (WDC) and Seagate Technology PLC (STX)

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Something unfortunate is going to happen in a minute. As soon as I mention the industry, I’m probably going to lose some readers. There are some who believe this industry is in a slow decline, and reading about these companies is a waste of time. The industry is hard drive manufacturing. For those who are willing to read the industry reports with an open mind, there appears to be significant opportunity for investors. There are two large companies that dominate the industry, Seagate Technology PLC (NASDAQ:STX) and Western Digital Corp. (NASDAQ:WDC). I’ve written about Seagate’s promise in the past, but I’m increasingly impressed with what’s happening at Western Digital as well.

Where Does It All Go?
Now I know I won’t convince anyone that Western Digital is a good investment unless we first establish whether the hard drive industry is dying or not. There are several factors at work that I believe will benefit the hard drive industry over the next few years. While many people believe that smartphones and tablets are replacing traditional laptop and desktop computers, there is one challenge that everyone seems to be ignoring.

Western Digital Corp (NASDAQ:WDC)Smartphones and tablets create content like pictures and videos that have to be stored somewhere. Since smartphones and tablets use flash memory, it is not reasonable to store these pictures and videos on the devices. Flash memory is much more expensive than traditional storage. Some would suggest that cloud storage is the solution, but that is simply not the case. Most free cloud storage is limited to somewhere between 2 GB and 10 GB. Customers are unlikely to pay $9.99 or more per month for more storage when they can purchase a traditional hard drive at a relatively inexpensive price.

Another factor driving storage needs is the increase in enterprise storage requirements. The movement of the healthcare industry toward digital documentation puts an untold amount of data into digital form. Everyone from large multinationals to the flower shop down the street is moving their paper information to digital formats. Digital storage is more secure, easier to organize, and easier to access than paper files. In many cases, this data finds its way onto a traditional hard drive.

The Old Guard Is Changing The Game Again
Another factor that should drive traditional hard drive sales is the rise of the Ultrabook concept that was “inspired” by Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC). Intel needs this category to grow to continue its dominance of the semiconductor industry. The company is looking to make the Ultrabook the replacement for both laptops and tablets. With more convertible Ultrabooks being introduced, Intel hopes to further blur the line between tablet and laptop. What is interesting about many Ultrabooks is, the hard drive they utilize is a traditional mobile hard drive. PC manufacturers know that this new form factor will only find support with appropriate pricing. In order to keep costs down, a traditional hard drive makes more sense than flash memory.

Now it wouldn’t be fair to mention the rise of the Ultrabook category without also bringing up the company that obviously benefits from improved PC sales. Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT)’s Windows 8 is an operating system designed for touch input. Touch screens have been the norm in the smartphone and tablet space. However, laptops and desktops are still primarily the domain of mice or touch-pads. With an increase in touchscreen desktop models, and laptops with touchscreens, Windows 8 is poised to capture more market share. Given the sheer size of the Windows 8 operating system, a traditional hard drive is almost required.

The Proof Is In The Numbers
If investors need proof that Western Digital could be a good investment, just look at their current quarterly results. In the last three months, Western Digital saw revenue increase 90%, non-GAAP EPS was up 242%, and hard drive shipments increased over 100%. Considering during the same quarter, Seagate also shipped 24% more hard drives on a year-over-year basis, it seems the hard drive industry is doing better than some would like to admit.

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