On the surface, all is right at Intel (NASDAQ:INTC).
Thanks to the cloud, Intel’s data center business is robust, with $5.5 billion in sales and $2.74 billion in operating income in the last quarter. While clouds were first developed with the cheapest possible chips, the Cloud Czars are now rich enough, and hungry enough for power, that half the unit’s sales were for the high-performance Xeon Scalable.
Also, Intel stock looks cheap. A price to earnings ratio of 17, and a 30-cent-per-share dividend that yields 2.4%, up from 18 cents in 2011, which it can cover with earnings. Net income of $5 billion on total revenue of almost $17 billion means almost 30 cents on every dollar is hitting the bottom line.
So, buy, buy, buy Intel stock, right?
The Rot Inside
When something looks too good to be true, it usually is.
Intel fired CEO Brian Krzanich in June, supposedly over a personal matter, but his exit exposed problems much deeper than unauthorized sexy times.
As longtime analyst Rob Enderle wrote at the time, Krzanich had taken complete power at the company, pushing out anyone who could have threatened him, bringing in highly paid superstars who were divorced from what was happening on the shop floor.
Intel is still making do with an interim CEO, Robert Swan, who only came to the company two years ago from an investment firm. The company keeps finding security flaws in its Core and Xeon processors that could let hackers steal data from the chips’ memory.
Enderle suggests Intel go after Diane Bryant, a long-time Intel executive who just left the Google Cloud unit of Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL), or someone like AMD CEO Lisa Su. He’s right. Intel needs someone at the top who truly understands the business, an engineer rather than a finance or marketing person.
The Changing Business
More to the point, Intel needs a total corporate rethink, and it’s stuck with a board that has very little experience in the semiconductor business, Chairman Andy Bryant, the one true Intel insider in the group, came up through finance.
I have been suggesting since 2012 that Intel should be broken up, because the businesses of designing and making chips are so different.
On the production side, Intel’s fabrication plants missed the entire 10 nanometer generation and will go directly to 7 nanometer production. The bottom line is the company is dreadfully behind on what makes chip manufacturing great.
Meanwhile the company is being trampled in design by “fabless” companies that create chips for the market, rather than the fab. Intel has been on an autopilot-like “road map” for years, an internally focused design process, and it doesn’t interact enough with customers.
The Bottom Line on Intel Stock
The irony is that, despite all these problems, Intel stock represents a unique bargain in the semiconductor space, a giant company worth $219 billion generating $62 billion in sales each year. It is fully capable of becoming a dominant competitor again if it can just get its act together.
That’s what a new investor today is betting on: that Intel can find a genius CEO, create a brilliant strategy, or concoct a clever breakup that gives it new momentum.
But Andy Grove isn’t walking through that door. Until you know who the new CEO is, know their strategy, and understand how it can work, avoid Intel stock.
Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of a new mystery thriller, The Reluctant Detective Finds Her Family, available now at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing, he owned shares in MSFT and AMZN.