Plenty has been written on the various product and cost synergies Qualcomm (QCOM) stands to reap from its pending $47 billion acquisition of Dutch chip giant NXP Semiconductor (NXPI) as well as about how the deal gives Qualcomm exposure to growing automotive and IoT chip markets. But the extent to which the purchase was a defensive move, one meant to lower Qualcomm's exposure to a mobile device market where slow growth and some company-specific factors stand to be long-term headwinds, can't be overlooked.
A fresh batch of earnings reports, courtesy of Qualcomm and mobile chip peers Skyworks (SWKS) and Qorvo (QRVO) , arguably help show why Qualcomm was so keen to diversify. And why Skyworks, reported this week to have approached analog, networking and storage chip maker Microsemi (MSCC) about a possible buyout, may be looking to do the same.
With job cuts, new Chinese licensing deals and a higher mobile processor share at Samsung providing boosts, Qualcomm recently reported fiscal Q4 (September quarter) revenue of $6.18 billion (up 13% annually) and adjusted EPS of $1.28, topping consensus analyst estimates of $5.84 billion and $1.13. But Q1 guidance was more subdued: Revenue of $5.7 billion to $6.5 billion (down 1% to up 13%) and EPS of $1.12 to $1.22 versus a consensus of $6.15 billion and $1.22.
Qualcomm also guided for its MSM processor and modem shipments, which are pressured by Apple's decision to partly use Intel modems within the iPhone 7, to drop 7% to 15% to a range of 205 million to 225 million. And reported sales of 3G/4G devices on which Qualcomm collects royalties are expected to be in a range of $58 billion to $66 billion (down 4% to up 9%).
In 2017, Qualcomm expects global 3G/4G device shipments to rise 4% to 10%, to a range of 1.75 billion to 1.85 billion. Analysts expect the company's sales to rise just 1.4% in fiscal 2017 (ends September 2017).
Meanwhile, RF chip maker Qorvo tumbled on Friday due to the light fiscal Q4 guidance provided with its mixed Q3 results: The company expects revenue of $800 million to $840 million and EPS of $1.15 to $1.35 versus a consensus of $844.5 million and $1.45. Revenue growth, which has benefited from share gains at Samsung, is guided to be in a range of 29% to 35% in Q4, but is forecast on average by analysts to slow to 7% in fiscal 2018.
Rival Skyworks (SWKS) , which has lost some share to Qorvo and Broadcom (AVGO) in recent quarters, closed fractionally higher after providing slightly above-consensus results and guidance: The company expects fiscal Q1 revenue to be up 7% to 9% sequentially, and EPS of $1.58. That's a little better than a consensus for 6.9% sequential sales growth and EPS of $1.56.
However, Q1 sales are still expected to be down slightly on an annual basis. And some analysts were on edge over Skyworks' inventories, which rose 58% annually to $424 million. Collectively, they expect Skyworks' sales to rise 7.5% in fiscal 2017 (ends September 2017), but it's worth noting this forecast assumes a return to double-digit growth during the second half of the year. Skyworks might need a strong 2017 iPhone production ramp to pull that off.
Overall, Skyworks and Qorvo's growth outlooks are a little better than Qualcomm's, thanks in large part to the fact the RF chip content of the average phone continues rising. Growing 4G phone penetration rates, support for more frequency bands in newer phones and the adoption of technologies such as carrier aggregation are helping, and 5G should provide a boost in a few years' time. The companies have also grown their sales to non-mobile markets such as cars, home electronics and medical devices.
But these markets still pale in scope relative to a mobile phone market estimated by research firm Gartner to total nearly 2 billion devices in 2016. Within this market, smartphones are expected to account for about 1.5 billion shipments, and their forecast to slow to 7% from 2015's 14.4%. Moreover, much of this growth will involve low-cost smartphones with less chip content (on a dollar basis) than high-end models. Smartphones, arguably the most successful consumer electronics product of all time, simply aren't much of a growth market anymore.
As for Qualcomm, it has to contend not only with slowing smartphone growth, but royalty rate pressures and potential share loss to both fellow chipmakers and the internal chip development teams of clients such as Samsung, Huawei and LG. That combination of those three trends makes growing the company's mobile revenue over the long run a challenge.
All of that apparently helped make a giant acquisition involving a company that gets the lion's share of its revenue from non-mobile markets appealing. And from the looks of things, Skyworks might be in a similar mood.