It's always hard when a company that has grown like gangbusters for a huge part of its history finally hits the wall. Yet for a while now, investors in Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) have had to deal with the harsh reality of rapid changes in the semiconductor industry, and its stock has fallen as its sales and profits have taken a hit in recent quarters.
Coming into Wednesday's fiscal fourth-quarter financial report, Qualcomm investors are already bracing for another big plunge in its fundamental metrics, but the strategic moves that the company is making could help Qualcomm eventually pull up from its downward spiral. Let's take an early look at what we're likely to see from Qualcomm this quarter, and what the future might hold for long-suffering investors.
What to expect from Qualcomm
Qualcomm's fiscal fourth-quarter report isn't likely to show obvious signs that an end to the pain for the company is near. Investors currently believe that sales will plunge more than 22%, to $5.21 billion, and earnings of $0.86 per share would be down almost a third from year-ago levels. Although Qualcomm has done a good job of topping expectations in its past three quarterly reports, even a sizable earnings beat would still leave the chipmaker with substantial declines compared to its fiscal 2014 profits.
Investors haven't stopped marking down their views on Qualcomm earnings either, but the pace of those declines has slowed considerably. In recent months, investors have only cut their expectations for fiscal fourth-quarter earnings by $0.01 per share, and similarly modest cuts of 1% to 2% for fiscal 2016 earnings show at least some hope for Qualcomm's long-term prospects. Still, the stock hasn't shown any signs of life, losing another 3% since late July to add to declines from earlier in 2015.
Qualcomm's fiscal third-quarter results back in July didn't do much to stoke optimism about the chipmaker's prospects. Sales slumped a worse-than-expected 14%, and even though earnings topped expectations, they were still down by nearly half from the year-earlier quarter.
Moreover, Qualcomm predicted a dour end to the fiscal year, giving guidance for the fiscal fourth quarter that included a 15% to 30% drop in revenue, and declines in adjusted earnings per share of between 25% and 40%. Reductions in full-year projections were in line with the new fiscal fourth-quarter numbers, and it's clear that Qualcomm has more or less written off fiscal 2015 as a lost cause.
Instead, Qualcomm has issued a major restructuring initiative, and that move has generated substantial debate since it was announced during the summer. On one hand, efforts to reduce costs and work on boosting margins could obviously put Qualcomm in a much healthier position for long-term growth.
If the company can focus on its highest-potential projects rather than pursuing a scattershot approach to the tech industry that tries to do too many things at the same time, Qualcomm might be more successful in generating future growth. Yet skeptics argue that, while potentially beneficial, the restructuring doesn't really address the core of Qualcomm's problems, which include a decline in demand for its core chip business, and challenges to the long-term viability and profitability of its impressive intellectual property-licensing business.
Perhaps more importantly, Qualcomm appears to be poised to win back some much-needed business from a key supplier. Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) reportedly has decided to dual-source Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 chip for its high-end Galaxy S7, and that could both validate the viability of the Snapdragon line, as well as generate interest in Qualcomm chips more broadly. Some argue that Samsung's own status in the smartphone industry isn't as strong as it once was, but Samsung is an important enough name in the mobile world to give Qualcomm some reputational benefits by having its chips included in Samsung products.
In the Qualcomm earnings report, investors will want to get more color on the ongoing process of cost-cutting initiatives to see if the long-term benefits will be as large as initially believed. With so much riding on the company's strategic moves, Qualcomm needs to demonstrate that it's serious about righting the ship in order to reassure hard-hit investors that the worst is finally behind the tech giant.