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Better Buy: Qualcomm Inc. vs. Intel

By Chris Neiger – Sep 22, 2016 at 7:52AM

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Both companies are facing their own battles right now, but one of them should be able to turn things around much faster.

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Qualcomm (QCOM 2.77%) and Intel (INTC 0.16%) have been locked into processor and modem battles for years, but both companies have their own unique business segments despite some of their overlapping pursuits.

Because of that, investors often consider one stock while looking at the other. So let's take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of both companies based on recent quarterly earnings, and what potential avenues each company has.

The case for Qualcomm

The company has experienced some rough times as of late. The previous four quarters have brought double-digit revenue declines. But that started to turn around in fiscal Q3 2016 when Qualcomm posted a 3.6% year-over-year increase. That's not a phenomenal increase of course, but it's definitely starting to move in the right direction again.

Sales of mobile processors and modems have been a driving force for the company's revenues and as of late there's been some positive news on that front as well. Qualcomm has managed to add additional Chinese smartphone makers onto its list of customers and expand those sales. That's come at a time when Qualcomm is just getting over some of its litigation nightmares in China concerning antitrust laws. 

With Qualcomm adding more China-based mobile device makers, the company can continue to tap that growing market, particularly as more companies expand their list of mid-range and high-end devices. 

Of course, we can't talk about Qualcomm's mobile ambitions without talking about Apple (AAPL 1.03%). The company released its new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus this month, and Qualcomm's modem has a spot in some (meaning, not all) of the devices. The rest of the modems are supplied by none other than Intel. Qualcomm was previously the exclusive modem supplier for the iPhone, so this isn't exactly good news for the company.

The case for Intel

Many in the tech world like to to say that Intel missed mobile (I've written that several times) and it's mostly true. While Intel dominated the PC chip market, it failed to get on board with mobile devices fast enough, and Qualcomm happily took the dominant position.

But some of that is changing, and the recent modem win in some of Apple's iPhones is evidence of that. It's still unclear concerning exactly what percentage of new iPhones have Intel modems inside, but according to Recode, Apple added Intel's modems into the new phones despite the fact that they don't support Sprint or Verizon Communications networks (which both work on CDMA technology). This gives Apple the leverage of having two companies competing for a spot in the devices. 

That's a nice win for Intel, but the real growth story for the company will come from using its chips to power Internet of Things (IoT) devices and servers. In the most recent quarter, which ended in July, Intel increased its Data Center revenue about 5% year over year and total revenue by about 3%. Those, of course, aren't impressive numbers. But remember that Intel is in a serious transition period right now.

The company just lost $1.6 billion to a restructuring charge and is pivoting away from PC processors to focus on IoT and data centers. The company already has a dominant position in server chips (just over 99% in 2015), but it still remains to be seen if device makers will look to Intel for IoT devices.

Investors will need a strong stomach to weather the company's changes over the coming quarters, as Intel continues its restructuring and figures out how to best use its chip know-how to build out new revenue streams.

The verdict

I think Intel is handling its transition away from PCs relatively well and certainly has enough leverage with OEMs to gain more mobile, IoT, and server business. But at the end of the day I think Qualcomm's businesses have much more stability.

It's true that Qualcomm isn't without its own blemishes (losing the iPhone exclusivity for one). But the company is still benefiting from its mobile processors, modem sales, and lucrative 3G and 4G patent licenses. These can't be the only revenue drivers for the company going forward, but they should provide the company, and its investors, with more stability than Intel.

Chris Neiger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple, Qualcomm, and Verizon Communications. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2018 $90 calls on Apple and short January 2018 $95 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Intel. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Stocks Mentioned

Qualcomm Stock Quote
$121.48 (2.77%) $3.27
Apple Stock Quote
$142.39 (1.03%) $1.45
Intel Stock Quote
$28.38 (0.16%) $0.04
Verizon Communications Stock Quote
Verizon Communications
$37.02 (-0.42%) $0.15
Sprint Stock Quote

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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