Too Marvell-ous to Be True

Marvell Technology Group (Nasdaq: MRVL  ) has reported a solid first quarter for fiscal 2007, beating analyst estimates of $0.42 (non-GAAP) by two pennies and forecasting continued clear skies. The hard-drive controller business is booming, new networking products are popping up like those whack-a-mole critters, and the company is diversifying into new areas like printer controller chips. Adding it all up, revenue is up 43% compared with the comparable quarter of 2006, reaching $521.2 million. On that basis, the business sounds as heroic as the otherMarvel's costumed characters -- but I have a sneaking suspicion that all might not be as it seems.

Marvell's strong earnings and sales forecast rests mainly on growth by acquisition. Gains from the purchase of Avago's printer controller chips division should provide most of the near-term growth. If you back out the Avago deal, some analysts believe revenue would be nearly flat.

That's not the only cloud in the sky. Marvell has begun shipping the next generation of wireless networking chips to partners like Netgear (Nasdaq: NTGR  ) and D-Link, but these chips are not based on accepted industry standards. Instead, they conform to a draft of the proposed IEEE 802.11n protocol. It looks like Marvell, Atheros (Nasdaq: ATHR  ) , and Broadcom (Nasdaq: BRCM  ) , among others, have jumped the gun here.

The draft these companies based their latest chips on received a much higher number of comments than anticipated during the public review period. That often leads to substantial changes to the proposed protocols. It may be back to the drawing board for the networking-vanguard hopefuls, with all the costs and negative PR of withdrawing a released product.

Marvell shares are priced like it's 1999, even after the last few months' pullback. Price-to-sales, price-to-book, and the venerable price-to-earnings haven't been this lofty since before the tech bubble popped. Any bad news could drive a nervous analyst to distraction, negating many of the feel-good vibes the company has given off lately. If and when that happens, I'd give this stock another good, hard look -- its technical leadership stands unquestioned -- but count me out at these valuations. They're just a little bit too heroic for my taste.

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Fool contributorAnders Bylundrespects Rick a great deal, but doesn't always have to agree with him. It's the Foolish way. The other Marvel (the comic book company) is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorpick. The Fool'sdisclosurerules remind Anders that he owns none of the companies in the story.


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