Qualcomm says has moved on from NXP despite China comment

Qualcomm, the world's biggest smartphone-chip maker, walked away from its agreement to buy NXP Semiconductors NV in July, after failing to secure Chinese regulatory approval.
Qualcomm, the world's biggest smartphone-chip maker, walked away from its agreement to buy NXP Semiconductors NV in July, after failing to secure Chinese regulatory approval. PHOTO: REUTERS

SAN DIEGO (REUTERS) - US chipmaker Qualcomm Inc said on Monday (Dec 3) it was not looking to revive its abandoned US$44 billion (S$60 billion) acquisition of Dutch peer NXP Semiconductors NV, a day after the White House said China would reconsider clearing a deal if it was attempted again.

Qualcomm, the world's biggest smartphone-chip maker, walked away from its agreement to buy NXP in July, after failing to secure Chinese regulatory approval. The planned deal was first agreed between the two companies in October 2016.

Qualcomm, headquartered in San Diego, California, and NXP, based in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, needed China's blessing for their deal because of their presence in that country.

After high-stakes talks on Saturday between US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Argentina, the White House said in a statement that China was "open to approving the previously unapproved" deal for Qualcomm to acquire NXP "should it again be presented".

But Qualcomm said there was no prospect for the acquisition to be revived.

"While we were grateful to learn of President Trump and President Xi's comments about Qualcomm's previously proposed acquisition of NXP, the deadline for that transaction has expired, which terminated the contemplated deal," a Qualcomm representative said via e-mail.

"Qualcomm considers the matter closed." NXP declined to comment.


On Monday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters that President Trump put the issue of the acquisition on the table in the talks with the Chinese president.

Kudlow added that the Chinese president's openness to the deal was a sign of further cooperation on multiple issues, including corporate mergers. Xi's reported comment could embolden some potential acquirers in the semiconductor space to explore transactions, corporate dealmakers said.

Qualcomm shares were trading up 1.35 percent at $59.05 in afternoon trading in New York on Monday, while NXP shares were up 2.5 percent at $85.45.

Qualcomm and NXP did not lobby for the Trump administration to bring up the abandoned deal in its meeting with Xi and other Chinese officials on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires on Saturday, which was dominated by negotiations over trade tariffs, according to sources close to the companies.

The two companies were surprised to see that the terminated deal resurfaced as an issue, the sources added, requesting anonymity to discuss confidential deliberations. Qualcomm was given just an hour's notice by the Trump administration about Xi's comment on the NXP deal, and its inclusion in the White House statement, according to two of the sources.

The Trump administration had unsuccessfully lobbied the Chinese government earlier this year to give its blessing to the deal.

China's foreign ministry declined to comment on Qualcomm during a regular media briefing on Monday.

Qualcomm had sought to purchase NXP because of its market position as a dominant supplier to the automotive market, as car makers add more chips to vehicles each year. Qualcomm is now focused on developing its own chips for the automotive market, according to one of the sources.

Qualcomm had to pay NXP a US$2 billion fee to terminate the deal. To appease its shareholders, Qualcomm has also embarked on a US$30 billion stock repurchase plan to return to them most of the money that would have been used for the NXP deal. It has spent more than US$20 billion in share buybacks in the last 12 months. NXP has also announced its own US$5 billion share buyback programme.


Several deals by semiconductor companies were put on ice after the Qualcomm/NXP deal fell through, simply because they had a footprint in China and required regulatory approval there. Now chip companies may be more optimistic about their regulatory chances in China.

One example could be Xilinx Inc, a US provider of chips used in communications network gear and consumer electronics that has a big presence in China.

Xilinx is currently vying to acquire Israeli chip maker Mellanox Technologies Ltd after it decided to run an auction to sell itself, according to people familiar with the matter. If successful, the deal could prove an important test of China's appetite for such deals.

Xilinx and Mellanox did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Thus far, other high-profile mergers and acquisitions involving US companies in other sectors have received Chinese approval.

Last month, China approved United Technologies Corp's US$30 billion purchase of aircraft parts maker Rockwell Collins Inc and Walt Disney Co's US$71.3 billion deal to buy most of Twenty-First Century Fox's entertainment assets.

Acquisitions of US companies by Chinese companies, on the other hand, have been few and far between in the last year, after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a government panel that scrutinizes deals for potential national security risks, shot down more of these deals, such as Ant Financial's plan to acquire US money transfer company MoneyGram International Inc.

US lawmakers also passed reforms earlier this year that increased CFIUS' scrutiny of deals.