Among tech giants, Qualcomm (QCOM 0.49%) stands out as a big winner in the mobile revolution. Having jumped at the chance to surpass its rivals by specializing in developing chips and technology early in the adoption of mobile devices, Qualcomm built up a huge stable of expertise in the area. Recently, though, investors have started to question Qualcomm's growth potential, and coming into Wednesday's fiscal-third-quarter financial report, some worry about the expected plunge in revenue and net income that the company will likely post. Let's take an early look at Qualcomm and whether it can bring some comfort to shareholders who have seen their stock fall more than 20% from its best levels of about a year ago.
What to expect
Qualcomm's earnings report is almost certain to draw more negativity from industry commentators throughout the tech sector. An expected decline of 14% in sales to $5.85 billion could mark the bottom of the downtrend in revenue, but investors don't think that the top line will turn around until fiscal 2016. Similarly, earnings of $0.95 per share would be down more than a third from last year's quarterly results, highlighting the struggles Qualcomm is having supporting its profitability. Investors can hope for a better performance than expected, especially since Qualcomm has topped the consensus estimates in three of the past four quarters, yet it would take a huge beat to bring the company even close to flat performance in either metric.
Moreover, investors have gotten more pessimistic about Qualcomm's prospects recently. In the past three months, estimates for the fiscal third quarter have fallen by a sixth, while projections for the 2016 fiscal year have declined by $0.36 per share. The stock has been weak as a result, falling 5% since mid-April.
Much of the negativity has come from the company's poor views of its own future. Back in April, Qualcomm's quarterly results were actually quite a bit stronger than expected, with 8% growth in revenue producing profit gains of 7% to $1.40 per share. The company cited high demand in high-potential markets like China, which has moved forward aggressively to catch up with the rest of the world in providing 3G and 4G technology for users. Yet Qualcomm cut its full-year forecast for its semiconductor business, with one of its major customers having chosen to produce more of its chips in-house rather than use Qualcomm as a supplier. Moreover, trouble with intellectual property violations have held back some of Qualcomm's benefit from being in the Chinese market, and efforts to collect on unpaid obligations have had mixed success at best thus far.
Still, not everyone is bearish on Qualcomm stock. Valuations for the chipmaker have rarely been as low as they are now, even with earnings at depressed levels, and the company has had to deal with a considerable amount of bad news to which it has already started adapting. By making moves to broaden its penetration of the mobile chip market and appeal to users both at the high-end part of the market as well as to more cost-conscious users, Qualcomm can stretch the value of its intellectual property treasure chest and squeeze as much profit as possible from it over the long run.
A couple of big questions loom for Qualcomm. First, the company now faces a European Union investigation into its competitive practices, with antitrust allegations potentially to come. At the same time, activist investors at Jana Partners have called for the company to consider separating its chipmaking and technology-licensing businesses, a move that Qualcomm's leaders have said it has no plans to do.
In the Qualcomm earnings report, be sure to look beyond the numbers to see how the tech giant deals with these two questions. With the company having authorized a $15 billion stock buyback program and continuing to look at ways to reduce costs and improve profits, it might well keep its investors satisfied and help its share price to start rising again. Yet if you don't see obvious progress on those fronts in its report, Qualcomm might once again come under pressure to get moving more quickly in the right direction.