Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) has gotten a break on its controversial policy of linking chip sales to its patents, which could move Qualcomm stock in the short term.
The bump looks like a heartbeat on an EKG, a spike of $3.50 per share that came after the Department of Justice uttered the magic words “national security” in defense of what Judge Lucy Koh and the Federal Trade Commission have called an illegal monopoly.
In a friend of the court brief filed with the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, Justice was joined by the Departments of Defense and Energy in arguing that Koh’s decision threatens American leadership in a crucial sector of the global economy.
The letter is unequivocal: “Immediate implementation of the remedy could put our nation’s security at risk, potentially undermining U.S. leadership in 5G technology and standard-setting, which is vital to military readiness and other critical national interests.”
Despite the letter, and a column from our own Bret Kenwell calling this “the perfect opportunity to profit from Qualcomm stock,” shares fell steadily after the spike. They opened July 19 at about $74.40, $1.30 per share lower than before the DoJ letter came out.
Qualcomm Stock and International Troubles
One reason was a $272 million fine the European Union levied against Qualcomm. This was for blocking a British modem chip maker named Icera, later bought by Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA) and closed, from the 3G baseband chip market a decade ago. Qualcomm calls the fine meritless.
It’s the second big EU fine in a year for Qualcomm, following a $1.1 billion levy over its treatment of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL). Apple settled its legal argument with the San Diego company in May, sending the shares from the mid-50s to the mid-80s within a few days.
Barclays (NYSE:BCS) analyst Blayne Curtis placed the Justice letter against the EU fine and dropped his rating on Qualcomm.
The merit in the Justice Department’s argument is nationalistic, not legal. It is a political letter.
Questionable Tactics and Qualcomm
Qualcomm’s tactics of “no license, no chips” have given it monopoly power as mobile operators and others begin spending big on 5G networking gear. Even Apple was forced to back down, seeing that Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) was too far behind Qualcomm to deliver a competitive design in a timely manner.
But Qualcomm does face a potential rival in China’s Huawei, called a big winner after Koh’s decision . When the Apple case was still alive, in January, Qualcomm had reached an interim patent licensing deal with Huawei.
The Koh decision, based on facts Apple gave the Federal Trade Commission, led veteran analyst Rob Enderle to say Huawei will now win the race to 5G, predicting the company will pivot to its own, proprietary designs and come back stronger, as Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) did after its own antitrust fight.
The argument is that Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.
The Bottom Line on Qualcomm stock
Kenwell’s argument for Qualcomm stock is based on reading technical charts. Fundamentally he acknowledges the risk in Koh’s decision and the European fines.
But Qualcomm is now selling for less than four times its annual sales. Its dividend of 62 cents per share, well supported by earnings, represents a yield of 3.33%. That’s better than what you get on a 30-year bond. This at a time when Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE) is selling for over 15 times sales, without a dividend.
If Qualcomm loses and must adjust its business practices, it’s still going to win a big share of the 5G modem marketplace. If it wins, and the U.S. has now put its thumb on that scale, the stock is cheap.
Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of a new environmental story, Bridget O’Flynn and the Bear , available now at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing he owned shares in MSFT, AAPL, and NVDA.