A lot has been made about the downright ugly financials of Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) mobile losses. To provide some context, Intel's mobile division lost about $4.2 billion in 2014 on revenue of $202. The revenue number is so low because of the company's contra-revenue offsets for its tablet chips, and the loss large in part because of both the contra-revenue and the huge development expenses required to make products for this market.
While this has led some to call for Intel exiting the mobile market, this isn't an option given that mobile computing (phones and tablets) are already a large part of the computing market. Intel's only way out is through, and no matter how you slice it, it's going to cost Intel big to get into this market in a meaningful way.
Now, what's interesting is that while the way Intel is going about it seems really pricey, it might actually be the cheapest way for it to get into the mobile market. Let me explain.
How else could Intel get in?
Intel could get into the mobile market in the "big" way that it would like to via either organic product development and marketing or acquisition of a major mobile player. The only two major mobile players that would really get Intel where it would like to be are Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) and MediaTek.
So, how much would it cost Intel to buy either one of these chip giants?
Let's look at MediaTek first. At last check, the company's market capitalization sits at about $27 billion, and Intel would need to pay something on the order of a 50% premium to be able to buy the company outright. Call it $35 billion ($40 billion less MediaTek's roughly $5 billion in net cash and equivalents) to buy this business.
Now, let's look at Qualcomm QCT -- the company's chip division. Qualcomm's market capitalization sits at $118 billion, and it has about $32 billion in cash and equivalents. Qualcomm is trickier because we only care about the chip business.
Approximately 37% of Qualcomm's operating profit comes from chips, with the remainder from patent licensing. So, let's assume 37% of the implied $86 billion enterprise value (market cap less cash and equivalents) is what the market values QCT at -- approximately $32 billion. A 50% premium to this figure would imply an upfront cost to Intel of about $48 billion.
Would this be cheaper than the mobile losses?
To simplify this analysis, let's assume Intel's not messing around and buys the first-place player: Qualcomm QCT. The business generated about $3.8 billion in operating profit in the last fiscal year. If we assume this business can grow operating profit at about a 5% compounded annual rate, then the acquisition would recoup the upfront costs in about nine years -- not including, of course, any interest expense from the debt Intel would need to take on to fund this acquisition.
If Intel can get its mobile group to break even within two or three years and generating a healthily growing profit after that, then the organic route makes a lot more sense than the alternatives.