Qualcomm Stock Earnings: Long Live the Smartphone King

Mobile chip giant Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM  ) is really firing on all cylinders. The company's business serious exposure to the booming mobile revolution that is taking place as we speak, and the fiscal fourth quarter earnings report shows just that.

Figures first
Total revenue in the fourth quarter grew 18% to $4.87 billion. Net income increased 20% to $1.27 billion, or $0.73 per share. On a non-GAAP basis, net income was $1.55 billion, or $0.89 per share. Both the top- and bottom-line results handily topped the Street's best guesses, which would have been perfectly happy with sales of $4.67 billion and $0.82 per share in profits.

Mobile station modem chip shipments were up 11% to 141 million units. Total reported 3G/4G device shipments, which Qualcomm earns royalties on, were approximately 210 million to 214 million, fetching an average selling price of $216 to $222.

Looking at the full year, Qualcomm saw record revenue of $19.12 billion, with $6.11 billion in net income. Full-year MSM shipments soared 22% to 590 million. CEO Dr. Paul Jacobs attributed the record results to the incredible growth in mobile data usage, especially within smartphones. He also expects solid double-digit growth in fiscal 2013.

Revenue next year is expected in the range of $23 billion to $24 billion, which would represent growth of 20% to 26%. That should translate into non-GAAP earnings per share of $4.12 to $4.32 after everything's said and done. Guidance for the coming quarter came in much better than expected, with fiscal first quarter sales forecast in the range of $5.6 billion to $6.1 billion, with non-GAAP earnings per share outlook of $1.08 to $1.16.

Many ways to play
Qualcomm's CDMA technologies business, or QCT, continues to be the show-stealer, posting 21% growth in the quarter. The company is the dominant supplier of mobile applications processors and cellular baseband modems, claiming approximately half of all revenue in each market.

That market leadership is translating into appreciable gains in Qualcomm's chip business, which comprises nearly two-thirds of revenue.

That's not to say that the scalable, high-margin licensing business is a laggard by any means, though, growing 17% this year. The licensing segment enjoyed an 87% earnings-before-tax margin and continues to benefit from 3G adoption in emerging markets and 4G adoption in developed ones.

Digging deeper
Qualcomm's strong results have helped pushed its market cap above Intel's  (Nasdaq: INTC  ) for the first time ever, a symbolic milestone. Intel's own results have been lagging due to weakness in the broader PC market to which its fate is entwined. The PC chip giant continues to try and tap into mobile device growth, but has a lot of work cut out for it. Qualcomm is now the largest semiconductor company in the world.

The results are also welcome in the context of the supply constraints that Qualcomm has been facing all year stemming from 28-nanometer production at primary supplier Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (NYSE: TSM  ) . TSMC's woes have been weighing throughout the chip space, as it's the largest contract manufacturer.

Qualcomm was able to ramp up 28-nanometer supply "significantly" in the fourth quarter. The shift to this smaller manufacturing node should boost average selling prices and subsequently gross margin, and management expects the chip business to enjoy healthy operating margins next quarter as a result.

Shortages with Qualcomm's basebands have been suspected of being responsible for the limited availability of Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPhone 5, which uses the new chips. According to Apple's website, iPhone 5 units aren't available to ship for at least three to four weeks. The information from Qualcomm shows that these ingredients probably aren't what's causing the iPhone 5 shortages, and the limited phone supply probably relates to display panels instead.

A good year
There's no other way to say it: Qualcomm is the smartphone king. Smartphone shipments in the first half of the year are estimated at 300 million, representing growth of 45%. Qualcomm's licensing, applications processor, and baseband businesses all benefit from rising smartphone adoption.

Investors like myself have a lot to look forward to in the coming fiscal quarter -- and year.

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