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NXP shares drop after executives outline post-Qualcomm path

FILE PHOTO: A man works on a tent for NXP Semiconductors in preparation for the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) at Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada January 4, 2015. REUTERS/Steve Marcus/File Photo

(Reuters) - Shares of Dutch chipmaker NXP Semiconductors fell 4.4 percent on Tuesday after executives outlined their strategy after the collapse this year of a proposed merger with Qualcomm Inc but said they did not expect to raise gross margins to the level of rivals like Intel Corp .

Chief Executive Rick Clemmer and other executives said NXP wants to retain its leading position in supplying automotive chips and grow sales by 5 percent to 7 percent a year between now and the end of 2021, which the company said is about 50 percent more than the estimated growth rate of the chip industry.

NXP also aims to boost its gross margins from the current level of about 53 percent to 55 percent by the end of 2019 and to as much as 57 percent by the end of 2021, while possibly selling off low-growth or low-margin businesses, the executives said at an investor and analyst day held in New York on Tuesday.

Those measures, along with a new 25-cent quarterly dividend and a $5 billion share repurchase program, are NXP's first major signals about its plans since its proposed $44 billion merger with Qualcomm ended in July. Qualcomm, unable to secure approval from Chinese regulators amid trade tensions between the United States and China, dropped its bid for NXP.

During the nearly two years the deal was pending, NXP did not hold quarterly conference calls with analysts and investors.

Tore Svanberg, a managing director with Stifel equity research, said it would take a long time for the company to regain momentum lost during the merger. "We also do not believe a bigger buyback and the initiation of a dividend payment is enough to restore investor confidence," Svanberg said.

Analysts have pressed the company on whether it can raise gross margins above 60 percent, like Texas Instruments Inc or Intel. But Clemmer told Reuters in a telephone interview that those margins are not necessary to meet NXP's growth and cash return goals.

Clemmer said NXP's growth opportunities in cars are immediate and tangible - such as for radar systems that help cars stay in their lane and are fast becoming standard - compared with the fully autonomous vehicles that rivals like Nvidia Corp are pursing.

"The car companies are now beginning to work with semiconductors companies (like NXP) directly. We see a lot more work with the car companies," he said.

NXP's shares closed down 4.4 percent at $89.57 on Nasdaq.

(Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco and Sonam Rai and Akanksha Rana in Bengaluru; Editing by Dan Grebler and Lisa Shumaker)