The idea of Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) potentially buying its way into the mobile processor market in a big way has been discussed before. In fact, I distinctly remember an analyst from CLSA Securities explicitly suggesting that Intel buy MediaTek, something that I wasn't so keen on at the time (as I was way too bullish on Intel's ability to deliver products for this market organically -- mea culpa).
Interestingly, at the time that the analyst from CLSA suggested that Intel buy MediaTek, shares of the Taiwan-based chip designer traded at around 420 New Taiwan dollars per share, implying a market capitalization of roughly $20 billion. A 30% premium to that would have run Intel $26 billion.
Intel could surely raise the money to do such an acquisition given the kind of cash flow its business generates (the $16.7 billion buy of Altera proved to be no issue for the chip giant), but it definitely would have been steep.
Today, MediaTek trades at around 211 New Taiwan dollars per share, suggesting a market capitalization of just $10 billion. A 30% premium to this price would run Intel about $13 billion, which -- even as the company tries to digest Altera -- would be more than doable.
I believe that now would be an opportune time for the chipmaker to strike and, once and for all, secure its place in the market for mobile chips by buying MediaTek. Here's why.
Intel gets a profitable, high-volume smartphone chipmaker
MediaTek is not the leader in mobile applications processors; that honor belongs to Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM). However, it is a quite strong No. 2 player in this market and ships hundreds of millions of smartphone processors each year.
MediaTek's processor portfolio is quite broad and deep, with chips serving everything from the low-end of the phone market to the high end (although admittedly its high-end solutions are still not in the same league as products from Qualcomm, all things considered).
MediaTek is also fairly profitable, although intensifying competition in the market and increased research and development spending has led to a substantial drop in operating profit for the chipmaker (down 45% year over year in the third quarter of 2015).
At any rate, MediaTek's business is far more successful than Intel's mobile business, which is still losing billions per year (albeit those losses are coming down). With the MediaTek business under its belt, Intel would be "in" mobile devices and make a reasonable profit from it, too.
MediaTek could become the new Intel mobile
With MediaTek under its belt, Intel could have a drop in replacement for its current mobile efforts. Intel seems to be disinvesting quite significantly in its own efforts, with the company saying that its spending in the mobile segment will have come down by about $1 billion by the time 2016 is out from 2014 levels.
Intel could actually just run MediaTek basically as a separate company instead of trying to really integrate it into the Intel organization in a meaningful way.
The one area where it would make sense for anything potentially resembling integration is that MediaTek should have the option, but should not be forced to, use Intel Custom Foundry to build its chips. If MediaTek management, even under the Intel umbrella, feel that they can gain an edge over the competition (i.e., Qualcomm) by using Intel manufacturing technology, they can do so, but if they deem it more advantageous from a cost/time-to-market/etc. perspective to use a third party foundry, they should have the flexibility and freedom to do so.