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Better Buy: Qualcomm vs. Broadcom

Shares of semiconductor specialist Broadcom (NASDAQ: AVGO) have shot up some 30% this year. The stock has enjoyed terrific catalysts in the form of a series of robust  quarterly results and optimism about potential gains in Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) next iPhone. Meanwhile, Qualcomm's (NASDAQ: QCOM) performance has left a lot to be desired (down about 13% year to date) thanks to its royalty dispute with Apple.

Not surprisingly, Qualcomm is trading near the bottom of its 52-week range, while Broadcom is currently close to 52-week highs. But can Broadcom deliver more upside after its impressive run, or is Qualcomm a better value play after its recent drop? Let's find out.

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The case for Qualcomm

Apple is hurting Qualcomm's business by withholding royalty payments to its contract manufacturers that license Qualcomm's technology. These contract manufacturers pass on the cash to Qualcomm, so Apple's move has put a heavy dent on the chipmaker's top line.

In fact, the company slashed  its fiscal third-quarter revenue guidance by $500 million at the midpoint to take into account the lack of royalty payments. However, JPMorgan analyst Rod Hall believes  Apple and Qualcomm will work out a deal and  that should lead to normalized royalty levels in 2019.

But any potential risks from the Apple-Qualcomm dispute are outweighed by the chipmaker's prospects in the automotive space and the virtual reality (VR) market. For instance, Qualcomm's pending acquisition of NXP Semiconductors can potentially boost Qualcomm's earnings  by 50% in 2018, according to JPMorgan's estimates. This isn't surprising as NXP is the leading automotive semiconductor supplier with a 14.5% market share and could add over $5 billion to Qualcomm's revenue by 2019.

Qualcomm is also making a smart play in the VR market by attacking the opportunity in head-mounted displays (HMDs). Earlier this year, the company announced a VR developer kit to help accelerate  the development of HMDs and reduce their time to market. The good news for investors is that Qualcomm is trying to uplift the VR experience by cutting the cord and delivering a wireless headset.

VR headsets present a $29 billion revenue opportunity, and Qualcomm is trying to make the most of this space by encouraging OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to use its chips to make the hardware.

The case for Broadcom

Broadcom could enjoy windfall gains from the next iPhone. The chipmaker is widely expected to benefit from a stronger production run of Apple's upcoming flagship device, apart from an anticipated increase in content.

JPMorgan analyst Harlan Sur is of the opinion that Apple is going to equip  its iPhones with wireless charging as the iPhone maker tries to keep pace  with Samsung's latest flagship phone. Broadcom is expected to be the prime beneficiary of a wireless-charging-enabled iPhone as reports indicate  that it has been working with Apple on this technology for two years.

Apple's wireless charging ambitions could add an estimated $500 million to $600 million to Broadcom's top line.

But Apple isn't the only catalyst that Broadcom is counting on. The chipmaker enjoys a strong position in the global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) chip market that could be worth $5 billion by 2022, holding the second-largest market share in GNSS chips, which enable location-based services in smart devices such as wearables.

Broadcom's strength in the GNSS chip market isn't surprising as the company was one of the first movers  in this space three years ago. In hindsight, this has turned out to be a smart move for Broadcom as wearable device sales jumped to an estimated 102 million units in 2016 from 79 million units in 2015. What's more, IDC expects wearable device sales to jump to 213 million units in 2020, boosting  the wearables semiconductor market to $4.6 billion.

Which is better? It depends.

Qualcomm might be having a bad year so far, but it is capable of staging a comeback in the long run thanks to its pursuit of juicy opportunities. Analysts expect  Qualcomm's annual earnings to grow in the double digits over the next five years as compared to just 3.5% growth seen during the last five years.

This presents a good opportunity for patient investors as the stock is currently trading  at 19 times last year's earnings, which is identical to its 13-year median price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio.

On the other hand, Broadcom is capable of delivering quicker returns on the back of its Apple account, though investors should keep in mind that the company isn't profitable yet and its forward P/E ratio is identical   to Qualcomm's, at 14. Broadcom is a play for more aggressive investors, while Qualcomm will better suited to those with a lower risk tolerance.

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Harsh Chauhan has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple and Qualcomm. The Motley Fool recommends Broadcom Ltd and NXP Semiconductors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.