Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Qualcomm forecast falls short as it takes a hit from loss of chip sales to Apple

For Qualcomm's fiscal first quarter ended December, the chip firm forecast revenue of between $4.5 bn and $5.3 bn

San Franiscio: Qualcomm Inc forecast sales revenue for the holiday shopping quarter below analysts’ estimates on Wednesday as it took a hit from the loss of chip sales to Apple Inc., sending its shares down 3.4%.

The San Diego chipmaker also forecast its fiscal 2019 first-quarter profit above analysts’ estimates, but the better-than-expected outlook was largely due to a one-time tax benefit of about 45 cents per share.

Qualcomm is the world’s biggest supplier of chips for smartphones but it has been battered by a slowdown in the industry and the loss of major customer Apple.

It has also faced repeated challenges to a patent licensing model where it takes a cut of the selling price of a mobile phone, both from antitrust regulators and from customers including Apple, which is suing Qualcomm over its practices. The iPhone maker has excluded Qualcomm from its new iPhones XS and XS Max and XR that launched in September, instead choosing modem chips from rival Intel Corp.

Earlier this summer, Qualcomm warned its shareholders that Apple would likely make that move, but the impact has shown up more swiftly than Wall Street expected.

For Qualcomm’s fiscal first quarter that ends in December, the chip firm forecast revenue of between $4.5 billion and $5.3 billion and adjusted earnings of $1.05 to $1.15 per share. Analysts were expecting revenue of $5.57 billion and earnings of 95 cents per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Qualcomm chief financial officer George Davis told Reuters that about half of Apple’s chip purchases tended to come during the holiday quarter. Davis said Wall Street analysts may have expected the blow from the Apple loss to be more spread out over the year.

“Our guidance has a reduction of over 50 million (chip) units in the quarter, all of that explained by the absence of being in Apple phones," Davis told Reuters. “That’s really the difference."

On the profit side, Davis said the adjusted earnings per share guidance of $1.05 to $1.15 included a 45-cent-per-share benefit from a tax restructuring that would not repeat.

“Net-net, it’s not a disaster," said analyst Kinngai Chan from Summit Insights Group. “I think Qualcomm can build from here on out with 5G and growth in its adjacent businesses" such as chips for automobiles, Chan said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Reuters reported that Apple is not in talks “at any level" to settle the litigation with Qualcomm, according to a person familiar with the matter. Davis said there was “a lot of focus both internally and externally" on resolving the dispute with licensees, which include Apple, but did not comment on whether the two were in talks about a settlement.

Qualcomm has tried to offset some of the woes related to Apple and the lawsuits by signing more deals with customers that effectively let them pay lower patent licensing rates. It has also reached new deals with large customers like Samsung Electronics Co Ltd.

Also offsetting the Apple impact is a slew of new partnerships between Qualcomm and Chinese mobile phone makers including Xiaomi Corp, Oppo, Vivo and OnePlus, all of which offer lower-cost models in emerging markets like India.

Davis said those Chinese phone makers are increasingly making higher-priced devices that use Qualcomm’s 700- and 800-series Snapdragon chips, which helped improve sales.

“Even though we made some changes to the licensing program that allowed customers to effectively have a lower rate, that came back to us in the form of higher (chip) unit sales," Davis said.

Qualcomm is also seeking to settle an antitrust lawsuit brought by the US Federal Trade Commission. That effort suffered a setback this week when a federal judge issued a preliminary ruling saying Qualcomm must license its patents to chip industry rivals such as Intel Corp.

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