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David Rolfe Comments on Qualcomm

- By Holly LaFon

The stock was our worst relative performer during the first quarter. While the stock was up nicely (+35%) in 2016 (after a dismal -30% in 2015), it suffered sharp profit-taking following Apple's lawsuit filed in February. Apple's lawsuit was filed just days after the Federal Trade Commission, in one of its final acts under the Obama administration, announced that it would sue Qualcomm (QCOM) for its purportedly anti-competitive practices. The FTC alleged that, in the U.S., Qualcomm used its unfair (dominant) supplier of smartphone modems to demand higher patent payments. Apple was specifically called out for allegedly entering into an exclusivity deal with Qualcomm in order to avoid its onerous terms. It's never fun when your children are fighting amongst themselves, and the same can be said when two of your portfolio children are fighting each other--and quite publicly at that. We have owned Apple since 2005 and have cheered the Company on during their long (and expensive) efforts to protect their IP. We have done the same during our +10-year ownership with Qualcomm's legal battles as well. To hear each side state their respective cases, quite frankly, one can easily agree with both plaintiffs and defendants. However, we come down on the side that Qualcomm deserves to charge its current IP royalty rates given that they have been the mobile industry's de facto R&D arm. No doubt Apple has been a prodigious investor in their own R&D, but most smartphone manufacturers are not much more than smartphone assemblers of discrete hardware and software. These lawsuits go right to the heart of Qualcomm's royalty franchise. Not too surprising then that the stock fell sharply on news of the FTC and Apple lawsuits. In our view, the stock fell too sharply, from $66 to as low as $ 53. At valuations of $55 and below, the market embeds, in our view, a far too onerous settlement with Apple at a new royalty rate that is much too low, in our opinion. The Company's NXP Semiconductor acquisitions remains on schedule. On the share price weakness, we added to our position in the stock in mid-to-late February.

From David Rolfe (Trades, Portfolio)'s Wedgewood Partners first-quarter 2017 shareholder letter.
This article first appeared on GuruFocus.