No Good Options for QUALCOMM, Inc. Shareholders Right Now

A CFIUS review adds another layer to the Qualcomm story -- and another reason to stay on the sidelines

By Vince Martin, InvestorPlace Contributor
No Good Options for QUALCOMM, Inc. (QCOM) Shareholders Right Now

Source: Karlis Dambrans via Flickr

The battle between Qualcomm, Inc. (NASDAQ:QCOM) and Broadcom Ltd (NASDAQ:AVGO) will continue on a little longer. And that doesn’t appear to be good news for Qualcomm stock. QCOM is trading near its lowest levels since Broadcom’s first approach sent shares soaring back in early November.

Indeed, at the moment, it looks like the odds of a Broadcom-Qualcomm deal have come down quite a bit. Qualcomm shareholders appear ready to vote in the Broadcom nominees, but getting the deal through the regulatory process looks much more difficult than some thought (Broadcom included).

Toward $62, Qualcomm stock does look somewhat intriguing, if only because it is pricing in an exceedingly low possibility of an acquisition. But trades aside, it’s still tough to make a long-term case for QCOM stock. A deal looks unlikely, will take some time and still has reasonably capped upside. If the deal breaks, Qualcomm stock no doubt falls further.

Neither scenario seems to provide a particularly compelling argument for buying, or owning, QCOM stock. Rather, it seems much wiser to let the dust settle.

Buying Qualcomm Stock for an Acquisition

Broadcom had threatened that it would walk away from the deal altogether if Qualcomm raised its bid for NXP Semiconductors NV (NASDAQ:NXPI). Qualcomm did, in fact, raise its bid. In response, Broadcom lowered its offer, to $79 per share from $82.

It appears at the moment that $79 still will be good enough. Bloomberg reported on Monday that Broadcom was on pace to win six board seats — enough to take control of Qualcomm and presumably allow the deal to go through.

With QCOM stock at $62, that price still represents attractive upside of about 27%. And from a trading standpoint, there’s a case that the spread is enough to take a flyer on Qualcomm stock at these levels. The market roughly is pricing in, at most, a 50% chance of a deal getting done.

But it increasingly looks like regulators are likely to block the deal. The CFIUS (Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States) is reviewing the acquisition — and asked for the 30-day delay in the shareholder meeting. Broadcom insists that it will re-domicile in the US by May, which would preclude any CFIUS review. The committee, as its name suggests, can only review takeovers of US businesses by foreign companies.

There’s a laundry list of regulators, however, who could block the deal even if Broadcom, again, becomes a US-based firm. And the aggressive actions by CFIUS, driven by fears of falling behind China’s Huawei in 5G if the deal goes through, suggest that the federal government does not want this deal to get done.

So even back at $62, it’s hard to make a compelling case for buying Qualcomm stock on the hopes of an acquisition. Approval of the deal in April probably increases the odds of a deal closing, but it also means a higher price isn’t needed — and, thus, likely isn’t coming. In the meantime, there are a lot more than shareholders who will have a say. As such, the market’s skepticism toward Qualcomm actually getting $79 a share seems justified.

Buying QCOM Stock as a Standalone

If $62 doesn’t look terribly attractive as a trade, it doesn’t look much better as an investment. The biggest reason is not that I don’t think Qualcomm has value, though I didn’t particularly like it in the $50s. The problem is that QCOM stock most likely is going to fall back below $60 — at least — should the deal officially break.

So, if an investor sees Qualcomm stock as a beneficial play toward 5G, and wants to own the company for that reason, there’s little reason to do so right now. That bull case should be available at a cheaper price at some point this year, if the deal breaks.

There’s a case that a combination of the two bull cases makes QCOM attractive at these levels. Buy QCOM at $62, and if the acquisition is successful, an investor gets ~27% return in the range of a year, depending on how long the deal takes to close. If it isn’t, the investor owns Qualcomm at a price higher than he or she could have paid — but a price still reasonably attractive (a 16.5 forward price-to-earnings multiple, for instance).

From here, though, there’s still too much uncertainty, as I argued back in January. Even on its own, Qualcomm still has to deal with a host of regulatory issues — its battle with Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), and the possible loss of market share to Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC), among others.

There are simply so many risks to Qualcomm at the moment and, truthfully, the potential rewards aren’t that huge. It still seems wisest to let the story play out — and then make a move with better, clearer information.

As of this writing, Vince Martin has no position in any securities mentioned.

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