Chip giant Intel is poised and ready to do more major acquisitions but doesn’t have any current targets, CEO Brian Krzanich told Fortune exclusively on Wednesday.
“We don’t have a shopping list or anything,” says Krzanich. “But we also feel like we’re capable, and we know how to do these big acquisitions. So no plans, but I think we’ve gotten past a lot of the issues we’ve had in the past with how to do them.”
Krzanich is looking for as many new ways to ignite growth as possible given the steep pressure on the company’s still-dominant, but shrinking personal computer chip business. Intel’s stock price gained in his first few years as some of his efforts to reorganize and refocus the company took off, but the stock is off 8% so far this year. In April, he announced another reorganization to be accompanied by 12,000 layoffs.
Still, the Intel chief sees more consolidation activity coming for the semiconductor business even after 2015’s record-setting level of activity. Last year, Intel (INTC) paid $17 billion for programable chipmaker Altera, while competitors NXP Semiconductors (NXPI) bought Freescale for $12 billion and Avago Technologies (AVGO) paid $37 billion for Broadcom.
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The slowing of easy performance gains from technological advances—as developing smaller transistor sizes per Moore’s law has started hitting the limits of physics—and the increasing expense of developing new chips has put a premium on scale in the business, Krzanich says.
“All those macro indicators tell you that there is going to be continued levels of consolidation,” observes Krzanich while speaking to Fortune after addressing an investor conference at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
Shares of Xilinx (XLNX), which makes programable chips, have been rising over the past few weeks on takeover rumors. But Intel’s just-completed Altera acquisition covers the same segment. Qualcomm (QCOM) is considered a more likely buyer. Cybersecurity specialist Fireye (FEYE) has also been the subject of rumors and could boost Intel’s fast-growing security unit. But acquiring the unprofitable company, which reported a net loss of $539 million last year and $156 million in the first quarter, would be a bitter pill to swallow for Intel, which is finally turning an operating profit in its security unit.
Krzanich ignited some speculation in April that Intel might be moving soon to bolster its growing data center chip business with some M&A activity, telling CNBC that “we will probably go in and make some more acquisitions.”
The CEO, who took over in 2013, says he has focused on making sure acquisitions can be successfully integrated into the company. The widely criticized $8 billion acquisition of McAfee in 2010 was a disaster in the early going. Krzanich brought in new leadership under former Cisco Systems executive Chris Young and dumped the McAfee name. Lately, security services has been a bright spot—revenue was up 12% to $537 million in the first quarter.
“You have to go do those cleanups,” Krzanich says. “You have to get good at this. Even if I never do another acquisition, it’s about shareholder return on assets and making sure that the ones you’ve done are getting the maximum return for your shareholders.”
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News that Google (GOOGL) developed its own customized chips to speed its artificial intelligence calculations along with stories that other companies with vast data center operations like Facebook (FB) are similarly pursuing custom chips has weighed on Intel’s stock price.
But Krzanich argues that only a half dozen or so companies in the world can afford to design their own custom data center chips. The moves by Facebook, Google, and the few others will put pressure on all the hundreds of other companies that run huge data centers to move to the next best thing—flexible chips that can be programmed to perform better on specialized applications, known as field-programmable gate array, or FPGA, chips. And Intel will be ready to supply FPGA chips thanks to the Altera acquisition, he argues.
“Some of these guys are going to be big enough that they’re going to have enough volume and enough workload” to make their own custom chips, he says. “We actually think that in the long run, this will actually be good for our business because it will drive more competitive pressure. That competitive pressure then typically drives the desire for more performance, and that’s where we’re able to add value.”