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ARM Keeps Riding the Mobile Chip Wave

By Evan Niu, CFA - Apr 23, 2013 at 8:00PM

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The British chip designer reported first-quarter earnings and shares soared. The mobile shift continues to boost ARM's prospects, even as a new wave in wearable computing is on the horizon.

ARM Holdings (ARMH) just posted impressive top-line gains as computing continues its mobile shift. The British chip designer, whose architecture designs are ubiquitous in mobile devices, generated $263.9 million in revenue in the first quarter, up 26% year-over-year. The net result was a bottom line adjusted profit of $0.24 per share. Both headline figures topped consensus estimates.

Outgoing CEO Warren East, who announced his retirement last month effective July, said there's been "strong uptake" of ARM's next-generation processors as well as its Mali graphics designs. The company's big.LITTLE technology is also starting to appear in devices, and those chips carry a higher number of royalty-bearing cores.

The most prominent device currently using big.LITTLE is Samsung's Galaxy S4, which includes Samsung's Exynos Octa in some international variants. Other versions of the South Korean company's Galaxy S4 are powered by Qualcomm Snapdragons, which are also based on ARM instruction sets.

ARM's growth has been primarily driven by increased chip shipments using its technology. There were 2.6 billion ARM-based chips shipped in the first quarter, a year-over-year gain of 35%. The average royalty per chip hasn't changed much over the past year, fluctuating between 4.8 cents and 4.9 cents. ARM's Mali graphics designs saw shipments increase by more than five times, signaling continued penetration.

Earlier this month, ARM and Taiwan Semiconductor (TSM -0.35%) also announced the first "tape-out" of Cortex-A57 processors using TSMC's FinFET process, signaling that the new chips are ready for mass production. ARM inked 22 processor licenses in the first quarter, which includes seven of these newest Cortex-A50 series processors like the Cortex-A57. That brings the company's total Cortex-A50 series licenses to 16.

ARM has also begun to ink licenses for the next wave of computing that may shift to digital TVs and wearable technology. I had thought that ARM may have gotten ahead of itself due to its valuation, but the company is proving me wrong.

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