Apple capitulates to end war with Qualcomm

Qualcomm and Apple agreed to settle all the ongoing litigations with the iPhone maker paying the chipset maker an undisclosed amount and signing a six-year licensing agreement.

On Monday, Qualcomm and Apple went to court over the allegation that Qualcomm has been abusing its monopoly position to over-charge for its chips. The stakes could have run up to tens of billions of dollars, with the OEMs Foxconn and Pegatron already demanding compensation of $9 billion dating back to 2013. The case at the Southern District Court of California in San Diego was meant to last for five weeks.

On Tuesday, the two companies released a brief statement to announce a settlement. “Qualcomm and Apple today announced an agreement to dismiss all litigation between the two companies worldwide. The settlement includes a payment from Apple to Qualcomm. The companies also have reached a six-year license agreement, effective as of April 1, 2019, including a two-year option to extend, and a multiyear chipset supply agreement.”

This is definitely good news for the two companies especially for Qualcomm, and good for the industry and consumers. Specifically, for Qualcomm it means its business model will remain intact and the company can put an end to a multi-year legal saga; for Apple, in addition to avoiding the punitive $31 billion penalty, this settlement will be able to quicken its steps to launch a 5G iPhone, making up the gap already expanding between itself and the leading pack.

A few hours later, Intel announced that it intends “to exit the 5G smartphone modem business and complete an assessment of the opportunities for 4G and 5G modems in PCs, internet of things devices and other data-centric devices. Intel will also continue to invest in its 5G network infrastructure business. The company will continue to meet current customer commitments for its existing 4G smartphone modem product line, but does not expect to launch 5G modem products in the smartphone space, including those originally planned for launches in 2020.”

It must have been a blow to Intel’s mobile ambition, especially after it announced only late last year that it would bring the launch of its first 5G modem forward by half a year to the second half of this year, an act to prove the doubters wrong. That originally planned 5G modem to be launched in 2020 referred to in the announcement, presumably a second generation, was supposed to power the first 5G iPhone, after Apple all but officially declared that it would enter into an exclusive relationship with Intel.

Putting the two things together it may be reasonable to infer that Apple agreed to settle after it had realised that it does not have other options than coming back to Qualcomm for the supply of 5G modems (assuming Intel had updated Apple about its imminent decision to withdraw from the market).

In addition to leaning in on Intel, Apple has also been reported to be strengthening its in-house modem development capability, ultimately aiming to rid itself of reliance on external suppliers. Based on the terse announcement released together with Qualcomm, it looks Apple does not believe the home-grown modems will be good enough to compete with Qualcomm in the next few years. Huawei is another supplier that has launched its own 5G modem, but it may be safe to estimate that the chance of Apple going for Huawei chips is slim.

In keeping with the normal practice of settlement cases like this, the companies did not disclose the amount Apple will pay. However, Qualcomm updated the SEC shortly after the settlement announcement was made, as the settlement would have material impact on the earnings. The company expected an EPS incremental of about $2 “as product shipments ramp” without giving a specific timespan. As a reference, in the quarter ending 30 December 2018, Qualcomm delivered an EPS of $0.87 on the back of a total revenue of $4.8 billion. Therefore, assuming Qualcomm’s operational efficiency remains largely constant, the payment Apple will make could run into the $10 billion range.

Payment aside, there must be some soul-searching going on inside Apple, including by Tim Cook, the CEO, who came from a supply chain management background: how could Apple have let itself be cornered so badly in the first place? It’s hard to view this as anything other than complete humiliation for Apple, especially when you consider how aggressively it pursued this case.

On top of the millions it will have paid to lawyers Apple’s negotiating position in arriving at this settlement, considering what was widely assumed about its 5G modem situation, must have been very weak. So it’s quite possible Apple has ended up paying considerably more for Qualcomm’s chips than it would have if it had never initiated this war. Having said that, Apple’s share price seems completely unaffected by the news, probably indicating offsetting relief that it’s back in the 5G game. Qualcomm’s share’s however, surged 23% on the news.

Intel bags 13% growth but weak forecast angers market

Intel has reported its revenues for 2018, and while executives will be preaching their success the market has reacting very differently.

With fourth quarter revenue of $18.7 billion, a 9% year-on-year increase, and full-year revenues of $70.8 billion, up 13% compared to 2017, it looks pretty good. Executives will feel they have done a fair job, though a 6.1% decline in after-hours trading tells a different story.

“2018 was a truly remarkable year for Intel with record revenue in every business segment and record profits as we transform the company to pursue our biggest market opportunity ever,” said Bob Swan, Intel CFO and Interim CEO.

“In the fourth quarter, we grew revenue, expanded earnings and previewed new 10nm-based products that position Intel to compete and win going forward. Looking ahead, we are forecasting another record year and raising the dividend based on our view that the explosive growth of data will drive continued demand for Intel products”

Despite a 9% increase in sales during the final period, Intel missed expectations while the markets are reacting to what is perceived as a weak forecast. The team has forecast revenues of $16 billion over the first quarter and a 27% operating margin, while full-year revenues are expected to grow to $71.5 billion with an operating margin of 32%.

Looking at the specific segments, the PC-centric business brought in $9.8 billion, a 10% year-on-year boost, in the final quarter, and $37 billion across the year, up 9%. Intel suggested the higher performance products and strength in commercial and gaming segments brought about the growth.

Collectively, Intel’s data-centric businesses grew 20% year-on-year to $32.9 billion for the full year, with the Data-centre unit collecting the lions share, growing 21% year-on-year. Interestingly enough, mobile revenues have not been specifically listed here though this could be a very successful venture in the future.

It increasingly looks like Intel will be supplying modems for all Apple devices moving forward, as the iLeader looks to ditch Qualcomm. Intel has chequered past when it comes to mobile, but this could certainly be a more profitable venture as Apple bleeds its customers dry.