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In Olympic swimming, a false start gets you thrown out of the race right away. On Wall Street, jumping the gun on bad news won't kill you, but you will get to suffer twice.
That's the case with processor technology licensor MIPS Technologies (Nasdaq: MIPS ) right now. The company was supposed to report fourth-quarter results last week, but couldn't complete its accounting treatment on time. Instead, we were handed an underwhelming revenue line of $38.4 million, and told to wait another week.
In the meantime, MIPS shares climbed, as the company published MIPS-compatible source code for the Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Android platform. This is a long-awaited move, seen as a potential catalyst for MIPS moving into smartphones and tablets that are dominated today by rival ARM Holdings (Nasdaq: ARMH ) .
But the air escaped from that mini-bubble in a hurry when MIPS published its full results last night.
Disaster strikes! But how?
Shares plunged 7% overnight, erasing all the Android-related goodwill, and more. MIPS has now lost nearly 5% of its value since that fateful revenue pre-announcement.
The market's reaction doesn't make sense at first blush. We already knew exactly how soft the sales would be, in spite of chip giant Broadcom (Nasdaq: BRCM ) signing a brand-new license during the period worth more than $26 million in fourth-quarter sales. And MIPS actually beat Wall Street's earnings targets, with $0.35 of non-GAAP income per share. So it would seem that the stock should jump today, or at least stay the course.
But then you're ignoring the fact the MIPS abruptly stopped presenting guidance for sales or earnings, starting right now.
That's a scary statement. If the company can't predict how the next three months are shaping up, how can you expect them to run the business effectively? Some companies never offered guidance to begin with -- Google springs to mind as a prominent example -- but it's disconcerting to see a steady stream of financial forecasts suddenly dry up.
Moreover, the company never explained the reason for this delayed report. I don't see anything on the income statement or balance sheet that would merit an extra week of processing, particularly when you consider the fairly simple business model (sign license deals for large lump sums, collect smaller ongoing royalties, pay operating expenses, then go to the bank). That lack of transparency alone might drive some investors away.
That's it? C'mon!
I can't find anything else in this report worthy of sudden panic. The company is exploring license deals with new and existing customers alike, in an attempt to squeeze more value out of its patented technologies. This effort is actually the main reason for leaving the guidance game.
According to CFO Bill Slater, the decision sprang from "the lumpiness of traditional licensing revenue opportunities coupled with the unpredictable timing and size of patent license agreements." That's different from the predictable royalty payments that have been driving MIPS so far.
MIPS keeps announcing tablet and smartphone wins in markets like India and China, where low cost is more important than respectable performance. That needs to change if the company wants to stake a real claim on the mobile computing market. I don't expect gadget guru Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) to go MIPS-compatible anytime soon, but that's the type and level of global brand that really needs to jump aboard the good ship MIPS. Today, the company relies on no-name brands, like Karbonn, Ramos, and Nationz Technologies. That's not how you build street cred in this brutal chip market.
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