Intel Burns Nearly $1 Billion on Mobile in Q1

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As a longtime Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) shareholder, it has been tough watching this company stumble again and again when it comes to smartphones and tablets. I still vividly remember the presentations the company showed investors back at the 2011 investor meeting. The idea was that Intel was finally going to take mobile (that is, smartphones and tablets) seriously. Unfortunately, while Intel seems to be putting in a massive investment into mobile, it still can't get the right products out the door, much to the chagrin of long-term shareholders.

Burn, baby, burn!
In the most recent quarter, Intel's Mobile and Communications group lost a staggering $929 million. Now, keep in mind that Intel shipped only 5 million tablet units during the quarter, so the majority of this loss has nothing to do with the "contra-revenue" program that it laid out last November to gain tablet share. No, this is an extremely elevated level of R&D as a result of the company's push into mobile.

Intel's P&L by division for the last several quarters. Source. Intel. 

Of course, there's nothing wrong with spending to get the right products out -- Intel, fortunately, can afford to do this. The problem is that Intel has increased its R&D, mostly for mobile, dramatically over the past three years, and here in 2014 we're not even close to a payoff. This is a huge problem that investors can no longer afford to ignore.

Hey, what ever happened to those lofty 2013 projections?
Back in the May 2012 investor meeting, Intel laid out some pretty aggressive expectations for its "Other IA" group (which is now separated into several categories, including Mobile and Communications). The idea was that from a respectable $4 billion revenue base in 2012, the company would grow that by $1.5 billion to over $5.5 billion and cut the operating loss significantly. The operating loss for the Mobile and Communications group was $1.776 billion in 2012.

Intel's expectations for its mobile group didn't exactly pan out. Source: Intel. 

That, of course, didn't happen, with the mobile and communications group losing a staggering $3.175 billion during 2013. Intel grew R&D considerably but sales actually declined from $1.791 billion to $1.375 billion. The majority of this decline came about because Intel's 2G/3G modems saw a steep fall-off as shipments of LTE-enabled smartphones, powered by Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM  ) discrete Gobi modems and Snapdragon apps processors, rose considerably. Intel's lack of an LTE modem to pair with its applications processor solution during 2013 was disastrous.

It'll be 2015 before progress is made
On the most recent earnings call, when pressed about the massive operating loss, CEO Brian Krzanich claimed that a "leadership" product stack in 2015 would be the key to significantly reducing that operating loss and eventually getting to profitability. However, we've heard this many times before. For example, in some of Intel's marketing materials, it has tried to claim that its chips already dramatically outperform those of its competitors.

These benchmarks make Intel's recently released Z3480 look great. Where are the design wins?. Source: Intel. 

Now, while these benchmarks are hardly representative of general-purpose CPU performance (more on that another time), the point is that Intel claims that it already has leadership products. This leads to the following quagmire where exactly one of the following is true:

  1. Intel's products aren't actually leadership products. In this case, Intel's chips are missing critical functionality/integration or simply aren't at the level of performance that OEMs want. This is the more likely situation.
  2. Even with leadership products, nobody wants Intel's chips. The other possibility that some have mentioned is that the OEMs simply don't want to work with Intel on phones and tablets because they prefer to have a Qualcomm/MediaTek duopoly. Competition is good, and if somebody offers you a better part for cheaper, it's hard to turn down. This is unlikely.

So we have a situation where after three years and over $5 billion of operating losses incurred, Intel's mobile product pipeline still isn't really good enough to compete for and win sockets profitably. Chips take time, but if Intel's 2015 offerings really don't turn out to be leadership, then something is horribly, horribly wrong.

Foolish bottom line
Intel's non-mobile businesses generate nearly $20 billion in operating income when taken together. Even a modest 10 times multiple to that would suggest a market capitalization north of $200 billion -- or a $40 stock price. Unfortunately, the PC market is still on the decline, and the mobile losses are wiping out a huge chunk of the company's operating profit. Once it's clear that Intel's mobile group can actually execute as promised, the market will be more willing to forgive these losses and the stock could trade north of $30. Until then, though, it'll all be about PCs and servers.

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Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (1)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 19, 2014, at 5:45 PM, techy46 wrote:

    “Be Fearful When Others Are Greedy and Greedy When Others Are Fearful”

    Nice reporting on Intel's struggles to move X86 from Core to Atom chips while integrating GPU and 3g/4g to offer low power, high performance chips to compete with Apple and Qualcomm chips based on ARMH designs. No Intel hasn't reach their goals yet but they've maintained their PC and server leadership while offering the only chips that can run both Android and Windows in 2-in-1 and all-in-1 tablet designs like the Asus T100. I guess it's going to take another 9-12 months to see in Atom 14nm (Broxton) and SoFIA can deliver. Oh well, let's see if Qualcomm or any other chip vendor can challenged Intel in PC's and servers in the next 9-12 months?

  • Report this Comment On April 19, 2014, at 6:46 PM, TMFAeassa wrote:

    Thanks for the comments, techy46! Glad to know you read just about everything I write :-)

    Take care,


  • Report this Comment On April 20, 2014, at 8:07 AM, raghu78 wrote:


    Qualcomm has revealed its 2015 product stack and is top to bottom integrated with baseband and the low end even having wifi integrated. Its going to be difficult for Intel at the high end with Cherrytrail not having integrated baseband going up against S810 / S808. Sofia has a better chance against the low end Snapdragons

    Qualcomm made a fool of itself going with 8 slow cores at the mid-range in the S610. They also contradicted what Senior Vice President Anand Chandrashekhar said last year.

    Mediatek is a fierce competitor in the mobile market. their big.little quad core Cortex A17 and quad core Cortex A7 is a much better design than quad core A15 designs from a power efficiency point of view and could give Intel a lot of strong competition.

    "The Cortex A17 name was deliberately chosen as ARM expects to be able to deliver similar performance to the Cortex A15 (in mobile apps/benchmarks, likely not in absolute performance), but in a much smaller area and at a lower power. I can't help but wonder if this is what the Cortex A15 should have been from the very beginning, at least for mobile applications."

    But the main problem is that by the time Intel has integrated baseband with Broxton (likely in Q4 2015) the fabless camp will have their next gen chips manufactured on TSMC 16FF/16FF+ and Samsung 14 FINFET. That is a real problem for Intel.

    Given how high Apple has raised the bar with A7 and Cyclone I expect Qualcomm to have a very strong custom ARMv8 core on FINFET by 2015 end. Broxton will go up against Apple A9 and Qualcomm custom core SOC on a level playing field. I think Intel missed its window of opportunity at 22nm.

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Ashraf Eassa

Ashraf Eassa is a technology specialist with The Motley Fool. He writes mostly about technology stocks, but is especially interested in anything related to chips -- the semiconductor kind, that is. Follow him on Twitter:

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