Following a pause for breath, China's optical networking sector looks set for a rebound during the rest of 2017 and that's good news for some of the optical component market's leading players, according to an analyst who tracks the sector.
In a research note issued from this week's OFC show in Los Angeles, James Kisner, senior vice president of IT Hardware & Communications Infrastructure at equity research house Jefferies & Company Inc. , notes that he is "confident that the optical component business will rebound in China soon" and that this is good news for "all the component vendors." He cited Oclaro Inc. (Nasdaq: OCLR), Lumentum Holdings Inc. and Finisar Corp. (Nasdaq: FNSR) as examples of companies that he tracks and which would likely benefit.
According to Kisner, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , the major supplier of optical systems to China's telcos, is seeing cause for optimism in China's optical transport market starting as soon as the second quarter. Kisner notes that Jeffrey Gao, president of Transmission Product Line at Huawei Technologies, shared the view that following a disappointing first quarter of activity, orders would pick up and that full-year coherent optical port shipments to China's network operators would be up by at least 30% year-on-year.
In addition, Kisner notes that Jiajin Gao, deputy general manager at China Mobile Technology (an R&D unit of the giant Chinese carrier), said that China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL)'s optical backbone network build would be continuing at "a strong pace" and that ROADM technology would be deployed in metro as well as long-haul networks.
MKM Partners Managing Director Mike Genovese also highlighted the return to growth of China's optical market as a key takeaway from OFC. He says the component vendors are expecting new tender documents from China Mobile in April for Phase 12 of the operator's backbone build, and that will be followed closely by tenders for Phase 13.
The analysts' views tie in with capex plans laid out by China Mobile late Wednesday: Although total capex is heading south, investment in transport networks is set to increase this year. (See Chinese Telco Capex to Fall 13% This Year.)
Genovese also reports that ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763), a network infrastructure vendor and Huawei's main domestic rival, is believed to be the lead supplier in a $15 billion cable TV and IP networks rollout that has already started.
The hiatus in China's optical transport network investments had been previously flagged up by Raymond James Financial Inc. (NYSE: RJF) analyst Simon Leopold following the recent fourth-quarter earnings report from NeoPhotonics Corp. (NYSE: NPTN), one of the leading optical components vendors and a significant supplier to Huawei's optical division. Despite reporting record fourth-quarter and full-year 2016 revenues of $109.8 million (up 23% year-on-year) and $411.4 million (up 21.1%) respectively, NeoPhotonics said its first quarter revenues would be way below expectations at $67-73 million, with CEO Tim Jenks citing "near term volatility in our largest served market" (China).
Leopold, in a research note, stated that delays in 100G product orders from China were expected to impact the market in early 2017, but that the dip in volume, though more severe than expected, was a "timing issue" rather than a terminal decline. He added that the Chinese operators were still expected to "extend 100G deployment" during 2017. NeoPhotonics has yet to see a concerted share price recovery, though: Its stock is down about 20% since the start of the year and closed Wednesday at $8.76.
— Ray Le Maistre, , International Group Editor, Light Reading