Here’s Why Qualcomm’s Potential Bid for NXP Semiconductors Is a Smart Play

September 29, 2016, 6:40 PM UTC
Courtesy of NXP Semiconductor

Ready for semiconductor industry consolidation round two—or really more like round 32?

Last year saw a record-breaking $100 billion of mergers and acquisitions among chip makers, but the party had seemed to tail off somewhat this year—at least until Thursday. That’s when the Wall Street Journal broke the news that Qualcomm is in talks to acquire NXP Semiconductors in a deal that could value the Dutch maker of wireless, power, and sensor chips at over $30 billion.

Qualcomm (QCOM) declined to comment. Shares of NXP (NXPI) shot up 15%, and Qualcomm shares gained 5%.

Investors have long hoped that Qualcomm CEO Steven Mollenkopf would make a big deal after he largely sat out last year’s furious merger wave that saw Avago Technologies (AVGO) pay $37 billion for Broadcom, Intel cough up $17 billion for Altera and NXP itself pay $12 billion for Freescale.

A Qualcomm-NXP deal would make sense for both general industry-wide reasons as well as the specific match between the two companies.

As Moore’s Law has slowed, advancing chip design has become more difficult and required increasing amounts of capital to build new manufacturing plants. While Qualcomm has great scale, it is largely making money from mobile devices like smartphones, a maturing market. NXP’s line up would give the company a huge boost in the market for smart devices, or the Internet of things, encompassing everything from robots and self-driving cars to Internet-connected lamp posts and door bells. NXP is also a major supplier to Apple’s iPhone, a device because of which Qualcomm just lost some market share to Intel (INTC).

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Ironically, Bernstein Research analyst Stacy Rasgon penned a report on Thursday morning considering acquisition candidates for Qualcomm. NXP often tops the list, he noted, because the company would give Qualcomm a significant presence in new markets like cars, security, and mobile payments. Also, Qualcomm could choose to change its base location out of the United States via such a deal, lowering its tax rate and making it cheaper to access offshore funds, Rasgon wrote.

Still, the deal faces significant risks, particularly because Qualcomm has never accomplished such a large merger before and NXP is still completing its Freescale integration, Rasgon noted. And while Qualcomm contracts out the actual manufacturing of its chips, NXP makes its chips in-house.

CEO Mollenkopf was asked back in May at an investor conference about the prospect of Qualcomm making a big acquisition.

“As we see opportunities to do that we will go ahead and do that,” he replied. “We certainly think that we have the opportunity.”

Now, it looks like that opportunity may come sooner rather than later.

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