By Levi Sumagaysay
Activist investor's letter to chip maker's chairman seeks changes, potentially including a change to its manufacturing process and divestitures
Intel Corp. shares rose sharply Tuesday after a hedge fund known for activism told the company's chairman that it recently "took a significant stake" in the chip maker and urged it to explore strategic alternatives.
Third Point LLC Chief Executive Daniel Loeb wrote a letter to Intel Chairman Omar Ishrak to ask him to address what he called the company's frittering away of its once market-leading position. The letter, first reported by Reuters and seen by MarketWatch, notes that Intel (INTC) has lost $60 billion in market capitalization over the past year and is losing ground to competitors such as U.S.-based Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) and Nvidia Corp. (NVDA), and Asia-based Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. . Loeb also said he's concerned about the departures of talented people from Intel because they're "demoralized by the status quo."
"Considering these and other challenges, we suggest the Board retain a reputable investment advisor to evaluate strategic alternatives, including whether Intel should remain an integrated device manufacturer and the potential divestment of certain failed acquisitions," Loeb wrote.
Reuters reported that Third Point has amassed an almost $1 billion stake in the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company.
Opinion: How did Intel lose its Silicon Valley crown? ()
In a statement Tuesday, Intel said it "welcomes input from all investors regarding enhanced shareholder value. In that spirit, we look forward to engaging with Third Point LLC on their ideas towards that goal."
Intel stock moved from a slight daily decline to gains of about 5% immediately after Reuters broke the news during Tuesday's session. Intel shares are down nearly 18% this year.
Analysts are skeptical of some of the solutions suggested in the letter. Having Intel separate its chip design and manufacturing -- which the company had already hinted at after announcing over the summer that its newest chips would be delayed by six months () -- may not solve anything, according to RBC Capital Markets.
"We believe the firm could take a gross margin hit of 30% or more if they were to outsource to TSMC/Samsung," RBC analyst Mitch Steves wrote.
Bernstein analysts agree, adding that they don't see why potential partners such as TSMC would want to get on board "without substantial compensation."
Wells Fargo analysts feel the same: "We believe investors will question whether moves in changing Intel's manufacturing strategy would necessarily change competitive landscape in the near to medium term," they wrote.
Intel has been seeking potential divestitures of non-core businesses, including the sale of its flash-memory manufacturing business to SK Hynix Inc ().
Ishrak has been on Intel's board since 2017 but has only been chairman since January, a fact Loeb acknowledged in his letter. Still, Loeb said he hoped Ishrak would agree that "Intel's substantial problems must be handled with the utmost urgency."
Other priorities Loeb mentioned include retention of customers such as Apple Inc. (AAPL), Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN), which he said are developing their own silicon solutions manufactured in Asia.
Intel "must be able to offer new independent solutions... rather than have them send their manufacturing away," he wrote.
In addition, Loeb framed Intel's woes as a national security concern, saying the company could force the United States to rely more heavily on Asia for critical technological needs. Loeb noted that Third Point -- which has pushed for and/or forced changes at tech companies including Yahoo and Sony Corp. (6758.TO) -- could submit nominees for Intel's board if it senses "reluctance" from the company.
-Levi Sumagaysay; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
December 29, 2020 15:25 ET (20:25 GMT)
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