With its designs powering an estimated 99% of the world’s smartphones, this UK-based company licences designs for computer chips that power cellphones, tablets, wearable technology, and even cars. 30 billion computer chips are made from Arm’s designs per year.
With today’s news that Softbank’s sale of Arm to NVIDIA is officially dead, and a NASDAQ IPO now in the works I thought I’d take a look at the company and see how it has fared with a pandemic, regulatory scrutiny and Japanese ownership. Note this is a brisk overview, I won’t be diving deep into its technology.
A bit of background, Cambridgeshire-based Arm originally listed in 1998 in London and over it’s 18 year floatation became something of a tech darling, becoming an 80+ bagger by the time of its acquisition and joining the FTSE 100. It provides licenses for microprocessor designs and related IP to tech companies, manufacturers and other OEMs, such as Apple. Japanese conglomerate Softbank purchased the group in 2016 for £23b in what was actually the second biggest tech acquisition in history at the time. The main motive of the deal for Masayoshi Son was a bet on the chips needed by all the “Internet of Things” connected devices of the future.
Performance under Softbank
One thing probably not a lot of people realise is that Arm is incredibly stable and profitable. The pandemic barely dented sales as the robust business model based on steady royalty streams proved its worth, its gross margins have remained above 90% and the company has a long track record of operating profitability. Since acquisition, Arm has generated almost $2b in free cash flow (the large profit in 2019 coming from the part disposal of Arm China). Margins have sagged the last few years as the company invested in many areas of growth and hired a huge number of staff (partly mandated by the UK Government to Softbank) but 2021 was a bumper year of recovery. The company has been less successful in its strategy for IoT, culminating in it ditching its IoT services related businesses to Softbank in 2020.
The independence of Arm has long been scrutinised because of Arm’s unique business model and central positioning in the semiconductor sector. Softbank’s acquisition was controversial, NVIDIA’s attempt even more so, with almost every major regulator voicing concerns and competitors lobbying to prevent the tie-up. This makes it very unlikely someone would be able to successfully takeover the company in future, and the market price may be dampened by this, unlike many other mid-tier tech firms that are common acquisition targets.
The company is forecast to produce $2.5b in sales in the year to March 2022, with $900m in EBITDA. Longer term Arm has lots of opportunities to capitalise on, perhaps even personal and data centre computing partially migrating over the Arm-based processors. Without the pressure of Softbank or the Vision Fund it can focus on what it does best in core ship design, especially as competition heats up. It is still quite reliant on smartphones however and as a result could be hit by a slowdown there. There is also an issue regarding their joint venture in China, which has publicly “gone rogue”, declaring independence and planning to develop independent architecture. This does present a risk to intellectual property, although some have speculated this dispute may have been exacerbated by Beijing’s opposition to the NVIDIA deal.
Investing in the company depends on your confidence in the company’s ability to continue growing, whether you feel Arm has been gutted and flocked by Softbank, as well as UK Government industrial policy.
Looks like ARM be a dual NASDAQ / LSE listing and will done ‘by March 2023’ I’d expect sooner as SoftBank could really use the money to prop up some of its over valued vision fund business that have taken a beating recently.
Had this way back in the day, split a couple times, I’m not sure it can repeat them good old days, it was a great share to have. I’ll keep my eye on this one, they’ve got lots of ongoing licence deals. It’ll be interesting to see how they do released from SoftBank.
Probably the best outcome. It definitely won’t fetch the $40b it was worth last year in this market but at a lower price I’m still not sure whether this or Qualcomm is the better buy. I don’t think I’d want to buy both as they’re competitors/customer and supplier. QCOM is cheap and has ADAS business, but way more exposed to consumer with smartphone IP and problems getting Nuvia chips ready for laptops let alone anything else. ARM seems better diversified and (someone correct me if otherwise) won’t be in standard US indices so may be worth allocating to?
Looks like its going to be listed in the US only, rather an a dual listing SoftBank's Arm registers for blockbuster U.S. IPO | Reuters
This is on the radar again. It amazes me that Advanced RISC Machines came out of Acorn. I have fond memories of Acorn’s BBC Micro computers and was somewhat sad to see IBM compatible PCs take a lead despite Acorn’s fantastic Reduced Instruction Set machines.
I will look forward to ARMs flotation and addition to FT.
May be worth posting this Freetrade article as news continues to build relating to the ARM (re-)listing in “less than a month*”:
Sounds like ARM will be IPOing if not tomorrow then Wednesday
I think it’s looking like Wednesday to price the IPO from my reading of that. We’re watching this one closely and will get it live in the app as soon as regular trading begins.
If you think back to IPOs, sometimes the initial pricing can take a few hours of the US trading session.
The IPO seems to be for American Dispositary Shares with no ordinary shares listed, I’m guessing this will not be eligible to hold in an ISA.
It will be an ADS as per the Arm website
Worth noting that the government website says it’s fine to hold them in an ISA.
It’s the first part of the highlighted bit which is what I was referring to as the underlaying shares are not listed, which makes it more complicated to determine eligibility. I notice that HL lists it as not eligible to be included in an ISA at the present moment.
Are read the from the ARM release they would be listed on the NASDAQ. I’m missing something I fear.
Tried to get a few but kept being rejected. Will wait and see what happens now