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Qualcomm Said It's Making Progress on Chip Supplies -- Is That Good News for Apple?

By Nicholas Rossolillo – Aug 3, 2021 at 8:23AM

Key Points

  • A global supply shortage of chips is still weighing on Apple.
  • Qualcomm said it's making progress bringing new supply online by the end of 2021.
  • Though it could miss out on some sales this summer, Apple is still growing at a strong pace.

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Whether Apple was just being cautious or not, its outlook for the rest of this year is still very good.

A global chip shortage continues to create challenges for many companies -- and not just those operating within the semiconductor industry. Apple (AAPL 0.11%) said its iPhone and iPad sales could suffer this year as it tries to meet incredible consumer demand for its devices amid the shortage for basic electronics components.

However, the day after Apple's latest quarterly update, chip designer and Apple supplier Qualcomm (QCOM 1.18%) said it was making progress getting extra supply up and running. This could be good news for Apple shareholders and could be key for the company delivering better-than-expected revenue this summer.  

Someone lying on the floor using a smartphone.

Image source: Getty Images.

Apple's "quarter-to-quarter" supply chain problem

Apple CEO Tim Cook said the current supply constraint issue is being taken "quarter-to-quarter" right now. But Cook and CFO Luca Maestri did provide some specifics to whet investor appetite during the third-quarter fiscal 2021 earnings call (for the three months ended June 30, 2021).

Specifically, Maestri provided general sales guidance for Apple's final quarter of fiscal 2021 calling for "very strong double-digit year-over-year revenue growth." However, the rate of increase is expected to be lower than the 36% pace set during Q3. Apple expects to get less of a boost from foreign currency exchange rates and its services business (which includes advertising, which is lapping depressed marketing activity last year during initial economic lockdowns).  

But another reason for Apple's decelerating sales growth is a big one: Greater chip supply constraints this summer than what the world's largest consumer electronics business experienced during Q3. Maestri said the constraints will primarily affect the iPhone and iPad (Apple's primary breadwinners). In April, on the previous earnings update, Cook and Maestri had explained they were expecting supply constraints for Q3 to affect revenue by $3 billion to $4 billion.

Among other issues, Cook said Apple is paying more than they'd like to get parts delivered, and the resulting sales effect this summer will be even higher than the $3 billion to $4 billion laid out a few months ago.  

Apple was able to flex its global supply chain muscle and mitigate some of those issues in the spring, but even for a company as large as Apple (total revenue was $81 billion in Q3), this chip shortage is having an effect on the top line. 

Qualcomm to the rescue?

Just a day later, mobile chip leader Qualcomm beat shareholder expectations for its spring quarter. Qualcomm is a hardware giant in its own right, providing circuitry designs of some sort for a vast majority of smartphones on the market around the globe. It has its own robust supply chain developed with chip fabricators, and it was able to bring additional supply online to help it beat financial projections over the last three months.  

New Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon said this on the earnings call:

We're still on track to materially improve supply by the end of the calendar year. We're securing incremental capacity across both leading and mature nodes and optimizing the allocation of our products across the global supply chain.

Good news for Apple? It sure could be. For now, Qualcomm is still supplying Apple with 5G mobile network modems -- a key ingredient in the iPhone 12 lineup. Apple is using the $1 billion modem business acquisition from Intel (INTC -1.44%) last year to develop its own hardware in-house, but for now, the iPhone is still a Qualcomm customer. If Qualcomm and other chip designers can continue to clean up supply chains, perhaps the multi-billion-dollar effect on Apple's hardware sales won't be as bad as currently anticipated.  

Granted, Qualcomm has lots of customers, and Apple's move to bring more chip designs under its own purview could be an incentive for Qualcomm to prioritize other smartphone makers. Nevertheless, Qualcomm waxing positive is good news for the whole smartphone industry as it ramps up production to meet demand as 5G network adoption starts to go mainstream this year.

Plus, though shipping costs and short chip supplies are weighing, Apple still notched one of the best gross profit margins on product sold (43%, up from 38% last year) in its history last quarter.

For tech titan Apple, the global chip shortage is a manageable problem, but Qualcomm's improving supply could help in the coming months. Apple stock trades for 26 times trailing 12-month free cash flow -- a reasonable valuation considering the company's outlook for double-digit revenue growth.

Nicholas Rossolillo and his clients own shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple and Qualcomm. The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long March 2023 $120 calls on Apple and short March 2023 $130 calls on Apple.

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