These two companies are involved in a war that could be very painful for the other. Apple and Qualcomm are involved in a global patent and licensing battle. As part of this battle, Apple instigated the FTC to sue Qualcomm to prove the worth of their patent licensing program. The battle with the FTC has lasted two years and it will come to a head with a 10-day nonjury trial starting on January 4th. The outcome of this trial will be life changing for Qualcomm. They will either emerge victorious and be due nearly $8 billion from Apple or they will crash and burn with their licensing program ruled invalid.
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QCOM - Qualcomm - Company Profile
QUALCOMM Incorporated designs, develops, manufactures, and markets digital communication products worldwide. It operates through three segments: Qualcomm CDMA Technologies (QCT); Qualcomm Technology Licensing (QTL); and Qualcomm Strategic Initiatives (QSI). The QCT segment develops and supplies integrated circuits and system software based on code division multiple access (CDMA), orthogonal frequency division multiple access, and other technologies for use in wireless voice and data communications, networking, application processing, multimedia, and global positioning system products. The QTL segment grants licenses or provides rights to use portions of its intellectual property portfolio, which include various patent rights useful in the manufacture and sale of wireless products comprising products implementing CDMA2000, wideband CDMA, CDMA time division duplex, and/or long term evolution standards and their derivatives. The QSI segment invests in early-stage companies in various industries, including automotive, Internet of things, mobile, data center, and healthcare for supporting the design and introduction of new products and services for voice and data communications, and new industry segments. The company also provides products and services for mobile health; products designed for the implementation of small cells; development, and other services and related products to the United States government agencies and their contractors; and software products, and content and push-to-talk enablement services to wireless operators. In addition, it licenses chipset technology, and products and services for use in data centers. QUALCOMM Incorporated was founded in 1985 and is headquartered in San Diego, California. Company description from FinViz.com.
The last 12 months have been turbulent for Qualcomm. First they tried to acquire NXP Semiconductor (NXPI). They received approvals from 7 of the 8 countries that needed to approve the transaction. While they were waiting on China's approval, Broadcom (AVGO) made a hostile offer to acquire Qualcomm for $121 billion. Qualcomm would be forced to drop the bid for NXPI if they accepted the Broadcom bid. Qualcomm fought Broadcom and finally got the government to veto the deal under a national security rationale.
Broadcom quickly made a big show of becoming a U.S. company by changing its domicile to the U.S. That was not enough to convince CFIUS they were not a threat. Eventually Broadcom dropped its bid.
Qualcomm tried to continue its acquisition of NXPI but China refused to approve the acquisition and Qualcomm was forced to abandon the acquisition attempt and pay a $2 billion breakup fee.
While Qualcomm and NXPI would have been stronger together, Qualcomm is not sitting still. They are rapidly moving forward on 5G communications, automotive chips, internet connectivity, Internet of Things, network processing, etc.
The company just announced a $30 billion stock buyback. That is one-third of the company using the funds they had set aside for the NXPI acquisition.
The next challenge for Qualcomm is settling the patent dispute with Apple. The phone company has protested the way Qualcomm collects royalties on its products. Instead of only charging a royalty on the specific parts in the phone, Qualcomm has always charged a royalty on the entire cost of the phone. In the beginning, companies did not balk because without Qualcomm's parts the phone would not have been possible. After paying royalties to Qualcomm for years, Apple decided they were paying too much money to Qualcomm and sued them to change the patent. Since Apple and every other phone manufacturer had been paying Qualcomm under this structure for years, Apple does not have a very good chance of winning. They do have a lot of money and the best lawyers in the world but the law is the law and signed agreements are tough to fight.
This suit is expected to be settled soon. Qualcomm has been successful in getting some models of iPhones blocked from sale and with each court action they are making it more likely there will be a settlement soon. The CEO said he thought it would be in Q4 but it has not happened yet.
With a 4% dividend and buying back 33% of the stock, there is no reason for Qualcomm shares not to rise in the coming months. The stock should also be somewhat immune to market movement over the coming weeks thanks to the monster buyback.
Qualcomm reported earnings of 90 cents that beat estimates for 83 cents. Revenue of $5.80 billion also beat estimates for $5.52 billion. However, the company guided for Q4 revenue of $4.5-$5.3 billion and earnings of $1.05-$1.15. Analysts were expecting $5.57 billion and 95 cents. The decline was due to a lack of Apple sales. Apple normally buys 35-50 million chips in Q4 but they have dropped Qualcomm as a supplier until the royalty fight is concluded in court. Shares lost $7 post earnings.
Cowen recently reiterated a buy rating and $73 target. Canaccord Genuity reiterated a buy and $75 target. Bank of America reiterates a neutral and $67 target.
Earnings Feb 6th.
Apple is trying to push out a software update to force phones to remove patent liabilities in China. Qualcomm is pressing the court to force an immediate halt to sales. Apple said late in the day that the China sales ban would force them to settle the patent suit with Qualcomm. Obviously that is exactly what Qualcomm has been trying to accomplish. Apple said being forced to settle with Qualcomm would force all other manufacturers to pay higher royalties as well. Everyone has been hoping Apple would be victorious and they would benefit from the same lower royalties if Apple won. Apple is trying to claim that Qualcomm's royalty agreements, which they signed and paid royalties on for years, is no longer valid because the price of the phone has risen so high. The agreement calls for a set percentage of the sales price as the royalty amount. When phones sold for $400 it was a smaller amount but now with $1,000-$1,500 phones that same percentage is a lot bigger number.
Apple is also playing politics in their court filings warning that China will lose millions of dollars in taxes and revenue if the ban is enforced. Of course, they could just pay Qualcomm what they owe and there would be no ban.
Qualcomm also won an injunction in Germany to force Apple to halt sales of iPhones.
Starting on January 4th, Qualcomm will participate in a 10-day non-jury trial against the FTC. This trial is the key to the settlement of Apple's suits around the world. Qualcomm will argue for its current patent and licensing model and fee schedules. The outcome of the trial will either boost Qualcomm's $5.2 billion a year royalty stream or crash it to a fraction of that amount. LINK
Nobody disagrees that Qualcomm's engineering and designs are the best in the business. They are simply whining that Qualcomm charges too much to license those technologies.
The outcome of this trial could move the stock $10 or more in either direction. I am proposing we buy a call and a put and hang on for the ride. One of them could been deep in the money and the other will expire worthless.
Buy Mar $60 Call, currently $2.26, stop loss $54.35.
Buy Feb $52.50 put, currently $1.46, stop loss $59.25.
We should know from the trial watchers if Qualcomm proved their case by the middle of January. I only recommended the Feb put because any downside move should be nearly immediate while any upside move could be lasting.
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