Qualcomm's Costly Future

As with all quarterly earnings releases, investors are far more concerned with where a company is going than with where it's been. Qualcomm's (Nasdaq: QCOM  ) fiscal fourth-quarter report released yesterday was no different -- solid results from the completed quarter paled next to concerns for the future.

Investors winced at the impact of litigation costs and legal battles on Qualcomm this quarter. While revenue for the quarter came in at a healthy $2.3 billion, net income was affected significantly because of the absence of royalty income from Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) . While Qualcomm reported net income of $1.1 billion, this was boosted significantly by a monster $331 million tax benefit. The hit on licensing revenue is seen when comparing operating income from Qualcomm's licensing segment, which sequentially dipped from $766 million to $647 million.

Future guidance for the next fiscal year included an approximate $0.25 to $0.30 earnings hit from the absence of Nokia royalties. This compounded with estimates that Qualcomm would again spend north of $200 million next year to defend its business to pressure the stock. While Qualcomm expects some of its direct legal costs to moderate, more spending is envisioned to keep downstream customers such as Verizon Wireless -- a joint venture between Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ  ) and Vodafone (NYSE: VOD  ) -- and Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S  ) happy in the coming year.

Outside of all the litigation threats, though, Qualcomm continues to be a top chipset supplier in the industry, named again this quarter as the world's top supplier of semiconductors for wireless applications. It continued to plow a good portion of cash into R&D -- spending 21% more than last year to support innovative new products.

While it's easy to dismiss my bias toward Qualcomm, I still contend that the story for the company is getting better, not worse. The gloom and doom surrounding Broadcom's (Nasdaq: BRCM  ) efforts to ban Qualcomm's customers from importing feature-rich wireless devices has gone from a spine-tingling nail-biter to only a mild thriller, thanks to a court victory that mostly mitigated the business impacts.

So, like Vonage (NYSE: VG  ) , Qualcomm is paying millions to keep business moving forward, and the more significant threats to substantially altering its business model appear to be losing steam.

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