Amid legal quarrels, Qualcomm shares fall on mixed earnings results

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In a week Qualcomm Inc. might prefer to forget, the wireless chip giant today reported a first-fiscal quarter profit that beat analysts’ expectations, but revenues fell short of estimates.

As a result, the maker of chips used in many smartphones and other mobile devices saw its shares, which had risen 3.45 percent in trading Wednesday, fell by more than 2 percent in after-hours trading. Update: In trading Thursday, shares were falling more than 5 percent.

Earnings before costs such as stock compensation fell by almost half from a year ago, to 46 cents a share. The quarter included an $868 million charge related to the previously announced Korea Free Trade Commission investigation on the company’s chip patent licensing tactics. Analysts expected Qualcomm to report earnings of about $1.18 a share before that charge.

Revenues rose 4 percent, to just under $6 billion, short of the $6.12 billion expected on average by analysts according to Thomson Reuters. For the current quarter, Qualcomm forecast adjusted earnings per share of $1.15 a share to $1.25 a share, neatly bracketing analysts’ forecast of about $1.20.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission last week and Apple Inc. this week sued Qualcomm, accusing it of using anticompetitive tactics to maintain a near-monopoly in its mobile chips. Today, Apple also filed two similar suits in Beijing on Wednesday, seeking damages of 1 billion yuan, or about $145.32 million.

The suits are a big deal because royalties earned from licensing its wireless chip patents account for some 85 percent of before-tax profits. Qualcomm has made it clear that it intends to fight both cases. Chief Executive Steve Mollenkopf (pictured) took only seconds after the start of the company’s conference call today to start providing a defense of its business practices.

“This is something we take very seriously,” Mollenkopf said of the patent issues. “We’ll get through it like we have in the past.”

The CEO contended that Qualcomm is “well-prepared and confident in our ability to defend our business.” He said the disputes are “commercial” in nature, not legal. “Sharing technology broadly in our industry has always been a strong contribution to our industry,” he said, adding that Qualcomm has never raised its royalty rates.

Mollenkopf also made a point of saying that he expects Apple to remain a customer. “Historically we have had a strong relationship with Apple,” he said “We intend to remain a supplier to Apple.”

Apple and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. together accounted for 40 percent of Qualcomm’s $23.5 billion in revenue last fiscal year. But in extended comments on the Apple lawsuits, the company strongly disputed the iPhone maker’s claims, saying essentially that they’re a veiled attempt to crush competition in smartphones.

“All things considered, Qualcomm had a good quarter in revenue, profits and given current legal circumstances, a good forecast,” said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. “The legal circumstances won’t be taken care of for a while, so long-term, we won’t see any wild swings.”

However, he said, the situation in China and Korea is different from the one with Apple, because handset makers there were withholding payment, while Apple and its partners will pay royalties despite the lawsuits. The company said its guidance reflects no expected changes related to the Apple suits.

Photo courtesy of Consumer Electronics Show webcast