Intel Is Fueling for the Ride of Its Life

Brendan is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

Do technology companies possess a sustainable competitive advantage? Warren Buffett doesn't think so, primarily because of the heavy R&D budgets that weigh down profits and require them to remain competitive. But with the right synergies, tech firms definitely can achieve massive gains. 

A Capital Intensive Business

According to a Booz & Company report, six of the top 10 most innovative companies in the world operate in the technology sector. Among them is Intel (NASDAQ: INTL), which spent $10.1 billion on R&D in 2012. Such large costs likely will not dwindle anytime soon.

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According to Intel’s CTO Justin Rattner, “…fifty cents of every dollar goes into exploratory stuff and the other fifty cents of every dollar goes into tech that serves the business unit that makes the money.” For a firm that generates 60% of its revenue from the declining PC industry, this formula is perplexing.

Just what does Rattner have in mind? The future.

Inside Intel

During the first quarter, Intel generated $4.3 billion in cash, paid $1.1 billion in dividends, and repurchased stock valued at $533 million. These are all phenomenal indicators that Intel is healthy -- especially the cash generated.

If Intel wants to stay on top of its game, though, it must accomplish three objectives:

  1. Expand in the mobile market by partnering with firms that can utilize its technology and products
  2. Diversify income streams by decrease its 60% dependence on revenue from the PC market
  3. Monetize R&D initiatives by bringing ideas to market

How Google could wreck Intel

Research and development giant Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) poses a large threat to Intel on two fronts. First, Google is entrenched in markets Intel desires to enter, notably the mobile industry. Second, some of Google's groundbreaking products, like Google Glass, utilize products from ARM Holdings (NASDAQ: ARMH), Intel’s direct competitor. If Google is continually pleased with ARM’s technology, the partnership between the firms could quickly become a piercing thorn in Intel’s side.

While Google Glass was under development, Intel endured an identity crises. During this time, Intel's management decided to transition from designing chips, processors, and technology for the PC market to offering products and services applicable to the mobile industry. All the while, ARM continued to focus on its niche market -- designing technology for electronics and technology companies.

Seemingly at Intel’s expense, ARM grew rapidly.

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Then everything changed. Intel had enough.

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ARM’s worst nightmare became reality. Intel waged war. Samsung announced that it chose Intel’s chip for its new tablets. Intel’s Clover Trail + Atom system-on-chip is less expensive than ARM’s equivalent.  Moreover, Intel’s next-generation core processors based on the Haswell architecture will result in significant battery power savings for tablets, further pressuring ARM to produce better technology.

Why Microsoft cares

From cloud computing to operating systems to gaming, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is literally everywhere in the technology industry. One of the goals for its Windows RT platform, a mobile variant of its Windows 8 operating system, is to enable ARM to gain more market share in the mobile tablet market. Why? Because ARM is the exclusive technology architecture platform for Microsoft's Windows Phones. Fortunately for Intel, the Windows RT platform seems to be on its last leg.

Ultimately, Microsoft's mission is to "help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential." It focuses on improving its existing products and services, but, as shown by its added business segments, Microsoft moves wherever customers flock. It engages customers, competitors, and creativity. Therefore, if Intel’s mobile chips continue to be more cost- and power-efficient for consumers, Microsoft could pursue a partnership with Intel to design its mobile application processors, modem solutions, and graphics processors. If such a deal occurs, ARM may be in trouble. 

Moving Forward

Rattner believes that the future of technology is in wearable devices and that Intel can be a primary player in the market. To remain competitive, though, Intel must grow within the mobile market, diversify income streams, and monetize R&D projects. If Intel meets these marks, investors are in for the ride of their lives.

When it comes to dominating markets, it doesn't get much better than Intel's position in the PC microprocessor arena. However, that market is maturing, and Intel finds itself in a precarious situation longer term if it doesn't find new avenues for growth. In this premium research report on Intel, a Motley Fool analyst runs through all of the key topics investors should understand about the chip giant. Click here now to learn more.

Brendan Marasco has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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