Monday, October 29, 2012

Marvell (MRVL) Wins Microsoft Surface RT Wi-Fi slot

Marvell Technology Group (MRVL) won a slot in the Microsoft Surface tablet computer. According to Anandtech (Inside Microsoft's Surface RT Tablet, October 16, 2012), the WiFi chip on the tablet is Marvell's. NVIDIA won the main prize with its Tegra 3 ARM-based processing chip. Atmel also had chips in the design.

We don't know how many of the WiFi chips Marvell shipped to Microsoft in the summer quarter (Marvell's fiscal Q3 2013 ending October 27, 2012), but it was not enough to balance the damage in the hard disk drive (HDD) controller chip business. Marvell dominates HDD controller chips, but the problem is that the largest single use of HDDs in in PCs. It was a terrible quarter for PC sales, and little HDD makers Seagate and Western Digital could do about it.

Marvell had guided revenues to $800 to $850 million. The update issued on October 18 put revenues at $765 to $785 million. At the midpoint there is a $25 million miss on the low end of prior guidance. Just about all of that came from the HDD segment. Marvell also makes chips for smartphones, for networking (ranging from WiFi to high-end datacenter Ethernet), for Google TV and similar appliances, and for video processing in HD TVs. It is moving into new areas like LED controllers.

The fourth quarter is a big question mark. A lot depends on the global outlooks of OEMs. If they are pessimistic they may further shrink inventories. If holiday sales go well, they may have to expand inventories, giving chip manufacturers like Marvell a boost.

While there is a lot of uncertainty about Q4 and about 2013, Marvell is well set to manage their way through it and eventually expand into new businesses, as they have in the past. Even at the current level of revenue Marvell is a cash cow. At the current stock price, $7.755 at the close Friday, you are buying $0.75 in trailing 12-month earnings and dividends of $3.1% per year, plus a cash balance of $2.13 billion, or $3.82 per share. In the latest quarter cash flow from operations was $0.34 per share. It looks to me like the market over-reacted to the revenue miss. At this price Marvell stock is well worth the risk, in my opinion. But then I started accumulating Marvell stock years ago.

Marvell is large enough and diverse enough that if only moderate numbers of Microsoft Surface tablets get sold, that probably won't have a significant impact on Marvell revenue or profit. Then again, the Windows Surface is a really hot device, and may sell in more than moderate numbers. It is on my wish list.

Disclaimer: I am long Marvell and Seagate. I will make no position changes in them for a week after this article is published. I do not have a position in Microsoft, Western Digital or NVIDIA and also will not initiate one for a week. Also, I occasionally do freelance work for Microsoft.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Can Design Wins Save AMD?

AMD got crushed in Q3, following a disappointing Q2. Yet at the Q1 analyst conference AMD execs were optimistic (See AMD Guides to Strong 2012, April 19, 2012).

Right now AMD stock is trading not just near 52-week lows, but near lifetime lows. At $2.07 per share AMD has a market capitalization of $1.5 billion. Is AMD now a matter for bankruptcy courts, where stockholders will get wiped out and even bondholders get pennies on the dollar? Or is there still hope for investors?

I could pick only one cause for optimism at the recent Analyst Call. It is not the restructuring plan, which will cut costs but will also probably cut R&D and sales muscle. It is alleged design wins.

Note that as bad as the quarter was (revenue of $1.27 billion, down 10% sequentially from $1.41 billion and down 25% from $1.69 billion in the year-earlier quarter), AMD is still a large company, with annual revenues of perhaps $5 billion. Its market cap, again, is $1.5 billion. If it could make those revenues profitable its market cap should trend back up towards $5 billion.

So design wins could matter, if they either increase revenues at good margins, or replace poor-margin revenue with good margins. Margins have always been a problem for AMD because rival Intel has always been able to set good margins and leave the dregs for AMD, even when AMD has brought out products that, in certain niches, were superior.

For months rumors have circulated that AMD had won spots in some of the major forthcoming game consoles: Sony, Microsoft Xbox, and Nintendo. Rumors vary: in the most optimistic, AMD wins all three.

All CEO Rory Read would say was that AMD already has confidential high-volume design wins in place. He would not even specify if these were game console wins as opposed to tablets or just Windows 8 notebook computers.

Certainly AMD's combined CPU and GPU chips, or APUs, fit well with any graphics-intensive, low cost system design. The current generation of game consoles is ancient and are expected to be refreshed in 2013.

But as experienced tech investors know, while design wins are a necessity, they are no guarantee of commercial success. Not all products sell. Gaming consoles have to compete against everything from smartphone games to Google TV to HTPCs. We also don't know how well Windows 8 tablets that don't use ARM-based processors will sell. We don't know if Windows 8 will help or hamper computer sales (I like Windows 8 a lot, but then I can be pretty geeky. Disclaimer: I just finished a freelance subscontracting job for Microsoft).

So the good news is that you can buy AMD stock for a song right now, and it will probably survive the year 2013, and might even thrive if the console and tablet manufacturers are not able to bargain margins down too much.

I am keeping AMD to a very small percentage of my portfolio, but opportunistically accumulating more stock. The safe thing to do is to keep away from AMD unless you already own it.

I will also repeat what everyone knows: AMD's IP is worth more than its market capitalization. Korean or Chinese companies would probably be willing to pay at least $3 billion for the graphics division alone, but AMD management thinks it can do better on its own.

Disclaimer: I am long AMD. I won't make any changes for at least a week after this article is published. I do not own Microsoft, Sony, ARM, Intel or Ninendo stock.

See also my AMD Q3 2012 analyst call summary;

Friday, October 12, 2012

Another Bad Day for AMD

AMD is plunging to new multi-year lows today. Egg on my face, I added to my position recently, so I just managed to add to my losses.

With all the bad news in the PC industry I did not expect AMD to make its previous guidance, which was for an essentially sequentially flat Q3, when Q3 is typically the strongest quarter of the season.

Preliminary Q3 results were released today, with revenue down 10% sequentially and a $100 million inventory write off. Ouch. Considerably worse than I anticipated.

Can AMD survive? It is a fair question. I still like AMDs graphics and graphics-integrated APUs (advanced processing units). I still think that desktop PCs with big screens can do a lot of things that mobile devices can't do. I am looking to buy a larger screen and an APU-based computer myself, and I think having massive parallel processing on the CPU (graphics really is parallel processing) is going to open some new doors. I am waiting for Windows 8 to be released so I don't have to install Windows 7 and then upgrade (I'll also be installing Linux since I increasingly use opensource software that runs better on it).

Intel is well set up financially to survive a slump in PC demand, but then they own their own fabs. AMD is fabless, so they just tell their foundries they want to produce less chips. Obviously in Q3 they both produced too many chips and also could not sell some of their older chips, implying they produced too many chips as far back as Q4 2011.

Might as well hold onto my AMD stock and see what happens, at this price. I often take riskier stock positions than I would advise for conservative investors. I've done really well with ONXX and FNHC lately, so the AMD decline won't hurt me that much.

Disclaimer: I am long AMD.