Shares of wireless powerhouse Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) have underperformed the broad indexes for quite a while now. The stock is up just 0.82% year to date against a Nasdaq that's up 7.15% in that same time farme. The share prices of peers such as Broadcom (UNKNOWN:BRCM.DL), Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), and Taiwan Semiconductor (NYSE:TSM) have all not only significantly outperformed Qualcomm, but have provided substantially better returns than the Nasdaq year to date.
While current investors may be (rightfully) frustrated with this lack of performance, I think that now is the time to buy Qualcomm stock. In fact, in compliance with The Fool's trading restrictions, I plan to open a position as soon as possible.
I don't buy the "doom and gloom" surrounding QTL
Many view Qualcomm as just a chip vendor, since the majority of its revenue comes from the sale of mobile-oriented chips. However, the segment of its business that really stands out is its highly profitable wireless technology licensing division, known as QTL, which generates the majority of the company's profits.
The basic idea here is that Qualcomm holds patents on many fundamental 3G and 4G LTE technologies; it also continues to develop technologies for future wireless standards. In fact, Qualcomm's patents are so important that most every company selling devices with cellular capabilities must pay Qualcomm a percentage of the selling prices of those devices.
The implied average royalty rate in the most recent quarter (using $58.1 billion devices sold and $1.803 billion in QTL revenue) was about 3.1%.
The doom and gloom surrounding QTL has to do with Qualcomm's allegations that some smartphone vendors are under-reporting device sales in China. Qualcomm further claims that some devices are being sold unlicensed in China.
On Qualcomm's most recent earnings call, Mark Sue from RBC Capital Markets pointed out that Qualcomm has successfully solved similar issues with South Korean, Japanese, and European device vendors. This leads me to believe that Qualcomm will ultimately prevail in this situation in China.
Given that investors seem to be pricing in a pretty good chance that Qualcomm doesn't resolve this favorably, I think that the stock price would move up in the event of the announcement of a favorable resolution.
I really like Qualcomm's chip business
I must admit that I am guilty of once believing that Qualcomm was poised to lose significant share in its chip business as other companies brought to market competitive LTE solutions.
That thesis hasn't exactly played out, particularly as Qualcomm captured 53% smartphone processor revenue market share during the first quarter of 2014.
Qualcomm still enjoys a sizable lead over its competitors, even as companies such as Intel, Marvell, and MediaTek successfully win smartphone designs here and there.
A large part of the company's success is that it can offer competitive products for just about every mobile device, targeting very low-cost devices with its Snapdragon 200 series and gunning for the biggest, boldest flagship devices with its Snapdragon 800 family. It also sells so many chips that it can probably get really good wafer pricing from its foundry partners such as Taiwan Semiconductor, Samsung, and Semiconductor Manufacturing International (NYSE:SMI).
There is risk that Samsung's internal chip teams become more competitive and boot Qualcomm out of some major Samsung phone sockets, and there is risk that MediaTek's technology becomes more competitive at the high end. Heck, as an Intel bull, I've been expecting Intel to have come to market with a competitive set of solutions for quite some time.
What's going on, however, is that Qualcomm continues to win the applications processor slots in many major smartphone designs. It's also the leader in standalone cellular modems (Apple uses these modems exclusively), and it has been grabbing more smartphone chip content with its connectivity combo chips.
In other words, Qualcomm has great technology and doesn't seem to be taking its foot off the proverbial pedal.
Foolish bottom line
Qualcomm is an extremely high-quality company that has deep technological expertise and two very well run and very profitable businesses. Although no high-technology company is immune to competitive pressures, I think that Qualcomm's management team needs to be given the benefit of the doubt at this point.
Concordant with that view, and given the dramatic underperformance of the stock year to date, I plan to buy into Qualcomm as soon as I can.