With Apple lawsuits still looming, Qualcomm beats revenue expectations

Jonathan Shieber
Following rumors over the weekend, chipmaker Broadcom has today confirmed it has approached wireless chipmaker Qualcomm with an acquisition offer that values the company at $130BN (including $25BN of net debt).

Against a backdrop of a year-long legal battle with Apple, Qualcomm has beat analysts' revenue and earnings estimates in its fourth fiscal quarter.

Qualcomm booking $5.96 billion in sales, or 92 cents per share, versus expectations of $5.8 billion and 81 cents per-share as the overall economics of the chip business continue to improve.

The numbers were good enough to bump shares of the stock up 54 cents (or 1 percent) in after-hours trading, to $54.00.

Qualcomm's ongoing legal battle with Apple was not enough to completely overtake strength elsewhere in its business -- including with Android handset makers like Samsung, Alphabet, LG and Xiaomi.

Indeed, as it looks out to next year, Qualcomm sees sales buoyed by increasing 3G and 4G penetration and growth in both the handset and Internet of Things markets, according to chief executive Steve Mollenkopf.

Chief among the reasons for Qualcomm's stronger numbers is growth in the company's business in China with original equipment manufacturers there.

As new technologies roll out, including 5G connectivity internationally, Qualcomm said it was well positioned to capture a significant piece of that market.

"We are very excited about the increased momentum of 5G around the world," Mollenkopf said.

Still, Apple's litigation is waiting in the wings. In January, Apple sued Qualcomm for just about $1 billion, for charging a hefty price for royalties on technologies that Apple said the chipmaker should not be associated with. Apple also alleged that the chipmaker had been withholding payments it was owed.

At issue is Qualcomm's charges of a percentage of the total price of iPhones and other Apple products as the licensing fee for some Qualcomm patents.

The Apple suit followed on the heels of an antitrust lawsuit filed by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for using its position as the leading supplier in the handset market to charge fees on technologies that amount to industry standards.

Qualcomm has counter-sued, claiming patent infringement based on technologies Apple is buying from the chipmaker's largest rival, Intel.

The company has already been fined $774 million by the Taiwanese regulatory agency for antitrust violations in a ruling that came down in October. Qualcomm has said it would appeal the decision.

Regulators in Korea and China have also dinged Qualcomm for anticompetitive practices, with Korea fining the company $854 million and the Chinese government leveling a $975 million charge against Qualcomm in 2015.

The spat between the two companies has apparently spilled into hardware design -- as the world's largest hardware manufacturer reportedly begins designing products without Qualcomm chips.

The billion-dollar spat with Apple has also taken its toll on Qualcomm's share price, which has declined precipitously over the past year.

Yet all is not lost for the chipmaker. Its giant $47 billion bid for fellow semiconductor manufacturer NXP has been approved in the U.S. and is moving through the approvals process in Europe and China.

Earlier this month, NXP's management said the $110 per-share price tag was a good deal for its own shareholders and it seems like the deal will wrap up in the early part of 2018.

That acquisition would position Qualcomm well against rival chipmakers Nvidia and Intel in the growing market for automotive technologies and in the burgeoning smart home and smart manufacturing categories.