In light of recent gaffes from the likes of Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE:CMG), Equifax Inc. (NYSE:EFX) and United Continental Holdings Inc (NYSE:UAL), it’s not as if Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC) didn’t know what to expect (and what to do about) the recent revelation that most of its computer processors were vulnerable to some rather nasty hacking. How the company responded to it is fair game for judgment, whether or not you own INTC stock.
With that as the backdrop, here’s the report card of what Intel did well and didn’t do well in response to the Spectre and Meltdown dust-up. While there’s nothing owners of INTC stock can do about it now, these factors could linger in the market’s mind for a while longer.
It may also serve as checklist for other companies that run into public relations headwinds in the future.
Intel Handles Spectre and Meltdown
Odds are good you already know, but if not, the crux of the matter is simple: the way many of Intel’s CPUs talk to the motherboard they’re attached to is dangerously vulnerable in three different ways.
Two of the similar ones have been dubbed Spectre, and the third security flaw has been labeled Meltdown. It’s not a bug or a virus. It’s a way for a hacker to break into a particular computer and steal things like passwords.
Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) has already rolled out fixes to the vulnerabilities, though not without plenty of headaches. This is a case, however, where the market and owners of INTC stock are (probably rightfully) laying most of the blame on Intel itself.
INTC Stock and the Intel Response
The company did some things right in an effort to minimize the damage to its reputation though, as well as stave off a meltdown of INTC stock. Chief among those actions was (finally) a simple apology that acknowledged the mistake, followed up by a “security first” pledge. A new cybersecurity group has been formed to help avoid things like this in the future.
That’s it. The company is already moving on.
That’s good though. This was a case where the less said, the better. It’s also in stark contrast to the belligerent way Chipotle responded to its E. coli debacle from late 2015, when it criticized the CDC’s effort to simply protect and inform consumers. The belligerence did more harm than good to the popular Tex-Mex eatery’s image.
The other thing Intel did right: It (more or less) had solutions ready to go when the bad news bomb was dropped.
There are those who would disagree with this premise, and for good reason. Intel only expects 90% of its chipsets to shore up the vulnerability by the end of January, and will only offer a quick for relatively new CPUs.
It’s actually a Herculean project though. The fact that it was able to work quickly enough with Microsoft to come up with some sort of stop-gap consumer-friendly solution is impressive even if not exactly complete.
There were some questionable decisions made too, however.
INTC Stock and Intel Mistakes
The most notable red flag is how CEO Brian Krzanich decided to sell as much of his INTC stock as he could after being informed of the security flaws, but before the flaws and their fixes were made public.
The timing isn’t exactly damning. Krzanich didn’t decide until five months after learning of the design flaw to schedule the sale. Nevertheless, in light of the fact that some of Equifax’s executives essentially did the same thing, Krzanich had to know critics would connect the dots. If nothing else, it’s just bad optics at a time when the company needs bullish optics.
Another head-tilter that surfaced from the Spectre/Meltdown mess is that while Microsoft and Intel worked together to develop a fix, the buzz is that Microsoft did most of the work. Microsoft has also dealt with more than its fair share of the fallout.
Maybe it’s not an unreasonable dynamic. Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMD) processors ended up being vulnerable to both of the Spectre threats, suggesting Microsoft’s Windows operating system itself is just as flawed (if not more so). That’s not the point, however.
The point is, Intel and Microsoft have to work together because consumers buy their products as a package. For better or worse, the two are linked. Intel seems to carry a bit of contempt for the partner though.
To that end, know that Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) is working on the development of its own chips, and Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) is working with International Business Machines Corporation (NYSE:IBM) to develop alternative processors.
Intel’s top brass didn’t exactly endear themselves to potential customers and partners in the way it’s worked with Microsoft on the matter… potential customers that are already tinkering with other options.
Still, all things considered, Intel and INTC stock have survived the gaffe mostly unscathed because of what the company’s done right.
Bottom Line for INTC Stock
I recently suggested the uproar that put Intel in a bad light wasn’t necessarily a reason to dump INCT stock and favor rival Advanced Micro Devices. As was noted, AMD’s processors were almost as vulnerable. Even if they hadn’t been though, I argued that these kinds of gaffes tend to be forgotten fairly soon.
I’ll reiterate that point here, however, in the post-mortem of Intel’s handling of the whole thing. A year from now, few will remember this ever happened. Six months from now, the only thing investors will care about is how much money the company is making relative to year-ago levels.
While INTC stock may still have to pay the proverbial piper in the very near term, if you liked the stock before Spectre and Meltdown became a problem, there’s no less reason to like it now.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can follow him on Twitter, at @jbrumley.