Check out that one-day stock chart for communications chip manufacturer Atheros. Shares took off with about an hour left in trading after the New York Times’ DealBook blog reported that Qualcomm is in talks to buy the company for $3.5 billion, or $45 a share.
If the deal goes through, it would be a very savvy one for Qualcomm, especially with CES about to start. Atheros has been busy announcing a series of new wireless chip products for tablets. In case you haven’t heard, Las Vegas is going to be silly with new tablets as just about every gadget maker not named after the Garden of Eden’s forbidden fruit tries to convince consumers that their tablet is infinitely cooler than that little iPad thang.
Qualcomm hasn’t been that acquisitive of a company in the past. So the fact that The Mighty Q may be looking to make a deal is extremely interesting. Qualcomm can clearly afford to pay up for Atheros without having to use stock. It has more than $10 billion on its balance sheet. That should please shareholders. In fact, Qualcomm’s stock was up slightly after the NYT report broke.
But you have to wonder if another chip company may also want to make a play for Atheros. At the very least, the deal could cause Broadcom, Texas Instruments or Marvell Technology to start looking for smaller wireless chip companies trying to capitalize on tablet mania. So don’t be surprised if investment bankers outnumber tech journalists at CES. Okay. That’s probably a stretch. — Paul
Say what you want about Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. He’s certainly ambitious. He’s been buying up software companies left and right for the last few years in order to transform Oracle from a boring database company to a true rival of SAP, IBM and Microsoft. He likes to sail, fly and do other adventurous things. He barely waited for the door to the HP executive suite in Palo Alto to slam shut on Mark Hurd before scooping him up to become an Oracle co-president (and possible successor?)
But none of that may be as bold as what Ellison proposed at the company’s annual meeting Thursday. According to reports from people attending the meeting, Ellison said, “you’re going to see us buying chip companies.” Of course, he’s talking semiconductors and not Frito-Lay. Larry’s comment was enough to get the tech rumor machine cranking up again. Shares of AMD surged Friday, as did shares of British mobile chip designer ARM Holdings.
ARM has frequently been mentioned as a takeover target for the likes of Apple as well as Intel, which finds itself struggling to make a dent in the handheld gadget world. But despite Ellison’s proclamation, does it really make sense for Oracle to buy a chip firm? The beauty of software is the high-margins. Plus, Intel, despite its problems in mobile, remains the 800-lb. gorilla in chips. Would Oracle really want to buy AMD and hope that Hurd can do his cost-cutting magic to get it into fighting shape to better take on Intel? I just don’t see it.
Then again, stranger things have happened. Few thought Oracle would go out and buy Sun Microsystems. So maybe Ellison’s endgame is to try and take down the entire Wintel market. Like I said, he’s ambitious. - Paul