Infineon Technologies AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: IFX) is on a roll. It has jettisoned unprofitable units, narrowed operations to less volatile industry segments, sales and margins are surging, debts are negligible, and for the first time in 10 years, dividend payments are on the table again.
Quite naturally, investors are taking a second look at the German semiconductor manufacturer. On Tuesday, Nov. 16, the Munich-based company's stock price shot up to a new 52-week high of $8.63 after it posted stronger than expected sales and profits for the fiscal fourth quarter and year ended Sept. 30. News the company would be paying dividends for the first time since 2000 further boosted its market value above $9.3 billion.
What's next for Infineon? In my opinion, the company stands to benefit from continuing consolidation in the semiconductor market, although the management -- after enduring years of reorganization and spinoff or sale of business units -- may not be too keen on making acquisitions. Instead, the management may instead prefer to focus on their recent gains and consolidate market positions in areas where the company believes it has a better competitive position.
There are other potential developments from Infineon's newly developed financial strength. While there are no current suitors on the horizon, Infineon is certainly a much better acquisition target than it looked even one year ago. Sales for fiscal 2010 rose to €4,585, including contributions from the wireless solutions unit the company has agreed to sell to Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), from €3,027 in fiscal 2009. Gross profit margins for the year, excluding the wireless business, increased to 37.5 percent from 22.8 percent.
What's the secret to Infineon's sudden growth spurt? As CEO Peter Bauer puts it:
We have consistently geared the corporate portfolio to businesses that are less volatile and more profitable. In providing products and solutions addressing the megatrends in society -- energy efficiency, mobility and security -- we are focusing on markets enabling long-term, above-average growth.
It's been a painful journey. The company suffered earlier this decade from exposure to the price-sensitive and highly volatile memory market. Despite numerous attempts, it failed to engineer either the turnaround or successful sale of Qimonda AG, the DRAM division spun off as part of plans to relieve the company of the heavy losses racked up by the unit.
Infineon's extensive reorganization efforts culminated earlier this year in its decision to sell the wireless solutions business to Intel. Although it was one of the company's major business units, Infineon executives chose to exit the wireless IC business because they lacked the scale to compete against bigger players and, additionally, planned to devote resources to less volatile businesses.
The moves are finally paying off. Infineon is today a more narrowly focused business. Its operations are now limited to automotive, industrial and multimarket, and chip card and security sectors, all areas where it has strong market share and deep relationships with OEM customers. All these market segments also require less capital investment, freeing up scarce resources for R&D as well as selling and marketing activities.
Another reason for optimism about Infineon is that it is spinning off a healthy stream of cash and has limited debt leverage, putting it in a position to finance any future acquisitions from available resources. With €1.7 billion in cash and cash equivalents at the end of its latest quarter and less than €300 million in long-term debts -- down from almost €1 billion only two fiscal years back, Infineon's financial health has become clearly stable, giving it a better profile with investors.
By paying its first dividends since fiscal 2000, Infineon is signaling quite strongly the past stumbles are well behind it. That makes Infineon a potential acquisition for a bigger competitor interested in flexing its muscles in the automotive, multimarket, and security semiconductor markets. Is there such a player on the horizon?