ROBO Brief: ABB's Industrial Automation Push, Semiconductor Production & COVID Testing Continues

    This week, we discuss ABB's increased focus on automation, the continued demand for Danaher's COVID tests, and Taiwan Semiconductor's expansion plans for production. We are also hosting a discussion with ROBO Global strategic advisor, Dr. Henrik Christensen, about the evolution of robotics on August 18th. Reserve your seat here.

    Please enjoy these insights from our research team.


    ROBO: ABB Expands Its Focus Across Industrial Automation

    ABB, the Switzerland-based power and automation giant and a member of the ROBO Global Robotics & Automation Index since inception, continues to refocus its portfolio on its best businesses. Earlier this week, the company agreed to sell its mechanical power transmission business to RBC Bearings for $2.9bn in cash, which represents an EV/EBITDA of 21x. 

    Last week, the company revealed it would acquire ASTI Mobile Robotics, a Spain-based leader in autonomous mobile robots, one of the fastest-growing segments of the robotics industry. Over the past nine months, ABB has also announced plans to divest its turbocharging and power conversion businesses, as well as its intention to IPO its electric vehicle charging business. Last year, ABB also completed the sale of a majority stake in its power grids business to Hitachi for up to $8bn. 

    These transactions mean ABB is now left with an increased focus on industrial automation, which now accounts for nearly 60% of revenue, with the company enjoying global leading positions in process automation (#1), robotics (#2), and motion control (#1 in power drives). This is also translating into higher valuation multiples and strong share price performance. Over the past two years, ABB has returned a total of 180% and seen its forward PE multiple expand from 16x to 28x.


    HTEC: Cepheid Well Positioned Despite COVID Testing Uncertainty

    The uncertainty of ongoing demand for COVID-19 testing has driven considerable volatility among the many diagnostic companies that held the spotlight last year. However, Cepheid, a leading global diagnostic company and subsidiary of HTEC member Danaher, has seemingly been resilient to these waves.  In addition to reporting a strong earnings print last week with a beat and raise, Danaher noted that there has not been any decline in demand for its SARS-CoV-2 tests, and it has even raised its COVID testing guidance from 45M to 50M tests for FY21. This is amidst a period when other testing companies are lowering their COVID testing guidance due to declining volumes. (e.g. US daily testing volumes have come down from nearly 2 million in January to <500,000 today.)

    We believe this strong demand validates Cepheid’s technology leadership position. Last March, Cepheid launched the first rapid COVID-19 PCR test. What makes this test unique is that it can produce a result in 45 minutes, and it can be done at the point of care, like at the doctor’s office. This contrasts with other PCR tests that need to be sent to large reference labs and can take several days or even weeks to turn around results. Eventually, more COVID tests will be offered in a multiplex format to include other viruses, like flu A, flu B, and RSV. Although we expect overall COVID testing volumes to decline over time, we believe Cepheid will be a market leader over the long run as the market increasingly demands these multiplex capabilities at the point of care.



    THNQ: TSM to Ramp Up Semiconductor Production Capabilities

    THNQ Index Member Taiwan Semiconductor, the world’s biggest semiconductor producer, has been active this past year in planning out its diversification strategy. According to TSM’s annual meeting this week, the company is engaged in building plants in Germany and Japan-based on customer demand. This is significant news as the German plant would be TSM’s first European-based semiconductor plant and a continuation of its expanding production plan outside of Taiwan.

    As megatrends around artificial intelligence and edge computing devices accelerate, TSM is in a race to build out its global supply chain, balancing geopolitical issues and customers’ orders. All around the globe, semiconductor companies have cranked up their production to address the ongoing capacity shortage. TSM, for example, announced earlier this year its intention to spend over $100 billion over the next 3 years to ramp up its capabilities in expanding its production capacity. 

    TSM controls approximately half the world’s contract chip manufacturing and the role the company plays has only strengthened during the pandemic with the accompanying digital transformation acceleration and supply chain disruption that have rattled the industry. This expansion strategy is one of the biggest signs of a decentralizing of semiconductor production outside of China and Taiwan. While it may take years for the industry as a whole to diversify chip production outside of these regions, longer-term, the initiative to have local chip production will help accelerate the adoption of artificial intelligence, IoT, and edge computing while simplifying the supply chain process and reducing tariff costs. 

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