This was a reply from Matt, to an e-mail from a disappointed investor about the way the dilution was announced.
I apologize for disappointing you. I believe today’s call was chock full of news about everything going on at the company. There were also scripted remarks about financing that were removed literally as I was speaking for legal reasons. It could not be helped. But it has since been released via press release. Definitely not what I intended. I am also sure many will be disappointed for our need to do this offering. Luckily, I will have a chance to address this in a presentation in just a few days.
As part of the release of AMD’s Q1 2016 financial results (more on that later today) the company is announcing that they are forming a new joint venture to develop x86 SoCs for the Chinese market. The hereto unnamed joint venture will see AMD pair up with Tianjin Haiguang Advanced Technology Investment Co., Ltd (THATIC), who is an investment arm of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The deal will, in a nutshell, see AMD provide the joint venture with x86 and SoC IP, along with significant engineering and other technical resources, while THATIC provides the remaining technical resources and the financing behind the venture. Overall the deal will net AMD $293 million from the licensing agreement, plus further royalties in the future.
As this is a fairly complex deal, I first want to jump into the technical aspects of the joint venture. In a brief call with AMD, the company made it clear that this is an x86 play for the Chinese server market, with AMD licensing/contributing their high performance x86 IP along with their SoC IP. AMD’s GPU and ARM IP is not part of the deal, and at this time AMD is not specifying which precise x86 IP is part of the deal. However given the timing of the announcement and the necessary ramp-up for products, I believe it’s very likely that the bulk of the x86 IP will be from AMD’s forthcoming Zen x86 processor. Either way, this a very straightforward play towards expanding x86 server processor usage inside of China.
However what those products will be remains to be seen. While AMD is announcing the formation of the joint venture, their participation, and what they stand to gain, any actual product announcements are the responsibility of the joint venture. What AMD is emphasizing at this time is that this is a joint venture for high performance processors, that it is designed to complement AMD’s existing server efforts, and that the SoCs will be leading-edge products. Just what a high performance processor is – and whether that means a multicore-heavy design or something using fewer, higher performing cores – will definitely be a burning question between now and the joint venture’s own product announcements. Overall, at this point what AMD is describing does not sound like the joint venture will simply be developing cheaper, lower performing processors for the Chinese market.
More obvious of an answer however is why AMD and partner THATIC would want to enter into this agreement. China as a whole continues to heavily invest in modern semiconductor technologies, both on the IP side and the manufacturing side, as semiconductors have historically been highly profitable for the winner and a good proxy for other technology development. At the same time ongoing geopolitical issues have called into question whether China can truly trust processors designed groups in foreign nations, and as a result there’s great incentive to design their own processors internally with security features specifically designed by and for the Chinese market.
As AMD does not develop much of their own security technology – they use ARM’s TrustZone – this complements those needs well, seeing as how THATIC would need to contribute security technology anyhow. The end result is that this will allow the joint venture – essentially a Chinese entity – to design their own high performance x86 server SoCs to meet the performance, compatibility, and security needs of the Chinese market.
This comes as the latest event in AMD’s efforts to further develop themselves into a full spectrum firm that develops processors internally and develops semi-custom designs alongside clients. The joint venture in turn takes it one step further, with AMD essentially providing IP to an outside entity and their semi-custom design, rather than the entity coming to AMD. At the same time the parallels with Intel’s own efforts in the Chinese SoC market are significant. Intel’s SoFIA program to develop Atom-based SoCs for China and other emerging markets by pairing up with Chinese SoC designers is quite similar in ambition, though aimed at the opposite end of the market.
For Reference: AMD's Most Recent Datacenter Roadmap
For AMD this represents a crucial opportunity to re-enter the server market. In the long run AMD sees a greater presence in servers and the enterprise as being key to their success, as the server market is overall much more profitable than the client market, not to mention growing at a time where the client PC market is at best stagnant. Going this route means that AMD can attempt to get back into the market without facing Intel entirely head-on, by providing a product (or rather the IP behind it) that Intel currently cannot. Meanwhile it also provides AMD some leverage in the long run for further increasing the sales of their own x86 Opteron processors; if the joint venture’s x86 SoCs are successful, then AMD’s job convincing other customers that their products offer the right mix of technology, performance, and cost will be all that much easier. This has been something of a challenge for AMD in recent years as Intel has largely sewn up the server market, and customers have become hesitant to leave Intel.
Meanwhile, one other technical detail we’re going to have to wait on the joint venture itself to announce is where these products will be fabbed. AMD describes the venture as an initiative to produce leading-edge chips, which if taken at its word implies that the resulting chips would be produced on current-generation FinFET technology as employed by Intel, TSMC, and the Samsung/GlobalFoundries duoship. At the same time however, given the desire to produce chips specifically for the Chinese market, the joint venture may also want to use a Chinese fab. In which case it’s not immediately obvious who they might use.
Also not immediately obvious is where this falls under the Intel/AMD x86 cross-licensing agreement. AMD has of course done their own research and says that this doesn’t violate the agreement. However whether Intel agrees with that remains to be seen; it will likely take them some time to form their own legal opinion. In the meantime and at first glance, because this is a joint venture, it would appear that AMD is in the clear here as they aren’t giving the technology to another business, but rather are using it as part of a new line of products they are developing, albeit in conjunction with an outside firm.
Finally, let’s talk about the financials and other business aspects of the deal. Overall this is a pure technology investment for AMD; they are not putting any money into the joint venture, but they are contributing a significant amount of technology and technological expertise. It will be partner THATIC that supplies the funding for the venture, along with the remaining IP and expertise. Importantly, this means AMD doesn’t have any financial risk in the joint venture, and should it not pan out then AMD doesn’t lose any of their already limited financial resources.
On the up side however, AMD stands to gain significantly from the deal if it goes well. The initial joint venture licensing agreement calls for AMD to be paid $293 million – spread out over multiple payments that are contingent on the joint venture hitting certain milestones – while AMD will also receive royalty payments on future processors. At a time when AMD is still trying to pull back into the black, the agreement and promise of royalties is significant. And since the company already had a virtually non-existent presence in the Chinese x86 server processor market, while this deal does, from a practical perspective, limit AMD’s ability to sell Opteron processors to China, a fraction of even a moderately successful product line would represent a significant improvement for AMD.
At this point we don't have any further information on when the joint venture will be announcing their first products, but we'll be keeping a close eye on the development of AMD's newest venture. Although China calling on AMD can't alone turn around the company's fortunes, for AMD this represents their best chance in years to get back into the server market, and re-attain the profitability that they badly need.
AMD Licenses X86 to China JV
Deal may provide Zen technology for $293M
SAN JOSE, Calif. – Advanced Micro Devices will license technology to make x86 server SoCs to a China partner. A China investment firm will pay AMD $293 million for technology and design services that will enable a joint venture to build next-generation server SoCs for the China market.
The deal gives AMD a needed infusion of cash and a partner in the world’s second largest and fastest growing server market. However details about the deal are scarce and could draw fire from Intel with whom AMD signed in 2009 a detailed patent cross license.
AMD’s China partner is Tianjin Haiguang Advanced Technology Investment Co., Ltd. (THATIC), one of many financial holding companies with ties to China’s Academy of Sciences (CAS). THATIC paid AMD about $52 million this quarter which triggered the company’s need to provide information about the joint venture.
Little is known about THATIC or the joint venture which aims to remain secretive until it is closer to having products ready. The group is listed as one of many investment firms in which CAS has a stake. THATIC also has ties to Dawning Information Industry Co., Ltd. which has made world-class supercomputers based on x86 processors.
The deal is expected to be based on AMD’s next-generation x86 architecture called Zen. Even AMD is not expected to ship Zen-based server chips in volume until next year. The joint venture is likely to take even longer to assemble a team, design and ship its SoCs.
An AMD spokesman said the joint venture’s products “are expected to complement AMD’s x86 server offerings.” AMD will also receive royalty payments from the JV’s future product sales.
The deal is the first fruit of a plan to start a licensing business that AMD’s chief executive, Lisa Su, has been talking for several months. It is a much needed shot in the arm for AMD as its core business in PCs declines.
AMD has reported losses and declining revenues for several quarters. It laid off 5% of employees last fall and sold a majority stakeof a packaging plant to a China firm.
Despite the licensing revenue, AMD lost $109 million on revenue of $832 million this quarter. It surprised Wall Street by forecasting its revenues will grow 15% to $957 million in the next quarter, largely due to the beginning of a ramp of one of its three deals to make semi-custom chips for videogame consoles and it aims to break into the black later this year.
The upturn comes as Intel this weekannounced it will lay off 12,000 employees, in large part to compensate for a PC market it said will decline in high-single digits this year as it focuses on growth markets such as servers.
The China deal “is awesome -- I believe this is based around Zen and as such this is a huge endorsement for what AMD has with Zen,” said Nathan Brookwood, principal of market watcher Insight64 (Saratoga, Calif.)
“No one’s banking on AMD announcing blow out financial quarters anytime soon, in fact the question is whether Zen make it and this lays that to rest in a big way,” said Brookwood.
More importantly, “now there will be indigenous China-based x86 server designs,” he said.
Next page: IBM, Qualcomm feed China’s CPU hunger
IBM, Qualcomm feed China’s CPU hunger
China’s server customers, including Web giants Alibaba, Baidu and Ten Cent may feel motivated to buy processors from a local suppler. The chips are the most expensive components in servers which represent one of the biggest costs for large data center operators who use millions of them.
The AMD deal comes as the U.S. recently placed restrictions on sales to ZTE, one of China’s largest communications OEMs, for allegedly selling systems to Iran. In such a climate ZTE and other large China server makers may welcome a local supply of the key parts.
The AMD deal is similar to one struck in mid-January by Qualcomm around its upcoming ARM-based server SoC. In that deal Qualcomm and China investors are pooling $280 million to form Guizhou Huaxintong Semi-Conductor Technology Co., Ltd., based in an area where China has and plans to build large data centers who could be customers for its chips.
Initially the venture will sell chips Qualcomm designs and makes. Later it will design derivatives of its own for China customers.
It’s unclear if AMD’s venture has any ties to any of China’s data center giants such as Alibaba, Baidu and Ten Cent. The trio defines hardware for its data centers through an effort called the Scorpio Project.
Separately, a China startup announced last year plans to develop its own ARM-based server SoC. Phytium Technology Co. Ltd., founded in 2012, will pack 64 custom ARMv8 cores running at up to 2 GHz into a 640mm2die made in a 28nm processor.
Two years ago, IBM licensed its Open Power processor to Suzhou PowerCore which is developing chips for China server markers. At an IBM event earlier this year IBM showed prototype chips and servers based on the PowerCore chips but neither company nor its customers attended the Silicon Valley event.
Microprocessors represent one strategic technology in which China long has been hungry to have a stake. Under its so-called Big Fund, China planners are also trying to develop or acquire memory chip technology.
The country is one of the world’s largest consumers of semiconductors, in part because it assembles the lion’s share of the world’s computers and handsets. However it makes only a tiny fraction of the world’s chips today, a fact that creates a trade imbalance more significant than its oil imports.
If the rising number of China processor alternatives gain a foothold it could be a major setback for Intel which has staked its strategy in part on growth in cloud computing.
In January, Intel struck a server-chip deal with Tsinghua University and Montage Technology Global Holdings, Ltd. Under the deal Tsinghua will design a co-processor module and software for use with Intel’s Xeon server chips. Montage will sell the resulting products in the Chinese market, starting next year.
Intel might challenge the AMD deal, however the China partner apparently already has access to the technology. The Intel/AMD cross license was a five year deal that the companies failed to renew in 2015.
The license granted rights “intended to cover only the products of the Licensed Parties.” The heavily redacted document lists a dozen exceptions to its terms, most of them not made public. Intel declined to comment on details of the patent agreement.
“All the technologies licensed [to the China joint venture] are AMD technologies and there are no encumbrances,” said AMD’s Su. “We have closed the deal and have started execution on it,” she added noting she also doesn’t see any regulatory issues. (Recently, U.S. regulators have increased their vigilance in turning down high tech investment proposed by China.)
AMD expects to get half the $293 licensing fees before the end of 2017. Su said the China deal is not exclusive, and AMD will pursue other license deals but no others are immanent.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times Circle me on Google+
Advanced Micro Devices climbed 8% as investors got excited about the chipmaker's advances in the global virtual reality systems market. In a press release this morning, AMD revealed new advances in hardware and software to make virtual reality more prevalent in the technology world, and it unveiled a new certification program for graphics processing units to simplify the adoption of virtual reality technology among consumers and developers. Advanced Micro says that it has about an 83% market share in home entertainment virtual reality systems globally, and virtual reality-capable gaming consoles powered by AMD technology are in millions of homes across the world. With key partnerships with makers of popular virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift, AMD's Radeon ecosystem is establishing itself as a first-mover in the virtual reality space
AMD CEO Lisa Su confirmed that this announcement slide speaks to three semi-custom wins in all. We know Sony is getting at least one of those thanks to PlayStation Neo news leaks. Who nabbed the other two?
During AMD's Q1 2016 earnings call on Thursday, executives from AMD estimated a 15 percent revenue increase in Q2 2016, plus or minus 3 points, and they cited three semi-custom system-on-chip (SOC) "wins" as the "larger driver" for that revenue. AMD estimates that these SOCs will bring in $1.5 billion in revenue "over the next three or four years." At least one of those three SOC deliveries will begin "ramping" in the second half of this year, with all of those SOCs launching by 2017.
The reason that news is interesting is because AMD's SOC products have mostly been the core components in small-form-factor games consoles in recent years, and major news leaks have connected one of those upcoming AMD SOCs to the "Neo" refresh of the PlayStation 4, which could launch as soon as October of this year.
AMD's CEO Lisa Su made it clear during the earnings call that these semi-custom wins were related to the gaming sector, describing "semi-custom business and gaming" as the "larger driver" of Q2's revenue growth. "If you think about the semi-custom business in the past few years, the third quarter is always the peak," Su told reporters. "It will be the peak this year, as well, but we're starting some of the ramping in the second quarter as we build to the stronger third quarter."
But who is purchasing those other two gaming-related SOCs? AMD remained coy when asked directly: "I don't believe we've gone through any detail about what those wins are," Su said in the call. "I'd prefer to let that come out as our customers are ready to launch."
One of those SOCs may very well land in Nintendo's upcoming console, which the company began publicly acknowledging in March of last year with the name "Nintendo NX." Nintendo only tapped AMD for a GPU with its Wii U console, but speculation of an incredibly powerful NX leads us to believe that Nintendo will dump IBM as a CPU provider and seek a more elegant, integrated SOC solution this time around, which AMD may very well provide. In addition, reports from last October speculated that this system would include "at least one mobile unit that could either be used in conjunction with the console or taken on the road for separate use." If that rumor bears out by the time the Nintendo NX is announced this year, this could mean that AMD has provided two distinct SOCs for both the Nintendo NX's primary console base and its portable, "separate-use" controller.
If that NX rumor does not bear out, however, that leaves us with an SOC that could land in a new, Xbox-branded console. According to Su's statements, any unannounced SOCs would land in "a different console or a new console," as opposed to "the current generation," so this wouldn't merely describe any AMD contribution to an "Xbox One Slim" model, but there's no telling at this point whether Microsoft would actually create an Xbox 1.5 console as a result. (Some sort of new Xbox hardware will definitely be revealed by this June, at any rate.)
Su told reporters to expect the Polaris GPU rollout in the "second half" of 2016.