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Altera Corporation (NASDAQ:ALTR)

February 25, 2013 3:45 pm ET

Executives

Clifton Tong

Ronald J. Pasek - Chief Financial Officer, Principal Accounting Officer and Senior Vice President

Analysts

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

All right. Good afternoon. I'm Joe Moore, I'm the head of the semiconductor group at Morgan Stanley. I'm going to read a quick disclosure agreement, but before I do that, we are lucky to have today from Altera, Cliff Tong from Investor Relations and Ron Pasek, the CFO.

Disclaimer from my standpoint, please note that all important disclosures including personal holdings disclosure and Morgan Stanley disclosures appear on the Morgan Stanley website at www.morganstanley.com/researchdisclosures or at the registration desk. Cliff?

Clifton Tong

Presentation contains forward-looking statements which are made pursuant to the Safe Harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Forward-looking information generally refers to any information relevant to a future time period. Investors are cautioned that actual results may differ materially from these forward-looking statements and that these statements must be considered in conjunction with the cautionary warnings that appear in our SEC filings available from the company without charge. Further, this discussion and presentation may repeat elements of prior guidance and in so doing, the company is neither reaffirming nor modifying that prior guidance.

Question-and-Answer Session

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

All right, great. Well, thanks, Ron, for coming. We're quite bullish on Altera's fundamentals for the balance of the year. Coming off its low point in Q1, I wonder, before we get into the details, if we could talk about 2012. I know it's a year you're probably not thrilled with, the revenue shrunk about 13%, your competitor also shrunk. Without getting into the competitive dynamics, can just put that into context for the long-term growth of the [indiscernible]?

Ronald J. Pasek

Yes, I think the secular trend we have favoring PLDs over any fixed-function device given ASIC or ASSP, is still absolutely intact. Without going into a lot of detail on 2012, there are a couple of large deals in 2011 which just didn't repeat in 2012. One was with a networking company that had all of its ASIC production in the tsunami wiped out, who came to us in midway through 2011 and wanted us to help them convert that ASIC to an FPGA. We knew that would be a onetime deal. We're really clear on the fact that it was. Most of that revenue for us occurred in the September quarter. So obviously, that didn't repeat in 2012. And again, I'm not making excuses. This is just something that happened.

The other piece of business as we saw, that did not repeat was a large piece of military business we had in 2011 with the U.S. military. It's a large program win, it's still a live program win, most ordinary occurred in 2011, a little bit of hole in 2012. So that's what really gives me confidence that the underlying business is still absolutely intact.

The other shortfall we have, not uncommon to a lot of companies last year, was the weakness in industrial. That's really common across semi and I think I'd expect that to recover. I think comparing the low point of 2012 to what probably will happen for growth in 2013. It's hard to not -- it's hard to imagine not having a growth year so to your earlier point, it is a good comparative to come off of.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Great. And I think one of the issues last year, also, I thought we'd have a much stronger year from wireless infrastructure. I feel that again this year. I feel like there's a lot of enthusiasm that spending will pick up, that LTE is going to be important in more geographies around the world, but again, if I want to be completely honest, I thought that 12 months ago and it didn't play out. So where do you stand on that now? And what do you think will happen the rest of this year?

Ronald J. Pasek

So you think it's déjà vu all over again?

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Some, a little bit.

Ronald J. Pasek

I think having said that, we're a year further into LTE deployment into LTE handset. I think you've seen AT&T come out with an increase in CapEx, you've seen Verizon come out, you're seeing China Mobile talk about 200,000 basestations deployed for China Mobile probably sometime later this year, if not early into next year. So all those signs are telling me that this is not if this LTE build out is going to happen, it's just a matter of when and I do think you'll see some increase toward the second half of this year.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Okay. In all geographies or, I mean, do think China would pick up with...

Ronald J. Pasek

China will -- I think in China you'll see the start of that. I think you'll see some -- continued in North America, continuation in Japan and Korea. Not too much going on in Europe, although there are telltale signs, but I think they're a good deal behind.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Okay, great. And I guess, despite that backdrop, there's a couple of reservations on this market that people bring up. So maybe I could just walk through a couple of those. I mean, the first -- you had your largest customer, Huawei, in the second half of last year, did a conversion from FPGA to ASIC and I know you've said that that was a one-time event. I mean, could give us an update on that? Is there any possibility that you'll lose another segment of that business over the course of this year? Or just where do you stand on that?

Ronald J. Pasek

So, no. What we said back in October was that, that was a 65-nanometer FPGA win that was getting to more-than-anticipated volume. We do look at sockets that we win and when they do get to high volume, many, many times we talk to the customers before they realize it, and we try to sell them on converting that socket to our hard copy ASIC product. It's a product we have recognized, and at times, customers get to higher volume than they expect, so naturally they tend to want to get the cost per unit down. So we help them in many cases do that with our hard copy product.

We're always a little different in 2 respects. Number 1 is they were using FPGAs in 2 parts of the remote radio head, rather than just one. Most of the other equipment makers use a combination of an ASIC and an FPGA. They were using FPGAs for both of those remote radio head sockets. So they got the volume on a socket that we probably were lucky to get the business in the first place. I think, secondly, I think Huawei is a little bit different in the fact that they have an in-house sourcing company called HiSilicon and they, many times, can then convert designs generally in ASSP and other ASIC in the handset space.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

And I guess both your conviction that, that won't be another leg down in that and also the fact that if in the light of more modern basestations, LTE basestations, will you get that content back?

Ronald J. Pasek

Yes, I mean, from where we sit given that sometimes there is volume that generally goes in our favor but sometimes goes to fixed-function devices. We still see the opportunity of LTE being 1.5x it was -- than it was at 3G. So in other words, the net of that is definitely a tailwind for us to the extent that 1.5x times the revenue we achieved at 3G.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Okay, great. And then can you talk about some other trends in the basestation market, notably the move to smaller cells, how that affects you guys? And we talked about mobile congress [ph] all the more as it came out...

Ronald J. Pasek

Yes. So I think there was some noise that came out last year, and I think perception was that the advent of a heterogeneous network, mainly a micro and pico basestation, would be at the expense of the macro basestation. In fact, what we're seeing is not that at all. It's the number of macro basestations that people tend to play, haven't changed at all. In fact, if anything, it's probably gone up slightly.

So what's really been clarified is that the advent of a micro and pico and would be to supplement an existing basestation in really high-traffic areas, similar to what might happen now when you're offloaded to Wi-Fi. And we do have design wins in there.

So if you think about it, it doesn't cannibalize any of the business we're getting. In fact, we do have design wins in micro and pico basestations with FPGAs in them. Again, they're a much smaller device, much smaller box, but there's still FPGA content. So the long and short of this is that we still have the existing basestation business we had before, in fact, higher content, 1.5x what it was at 3G. Plus we will get some incremental business from the micro and pico deployment.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Okay. Great. And then the one last issue in a lot of this infrastructure, last quarter, you talked about a VMI program with one of your major customers. I think a lot of people looked at that as maybe that's an excuse, and then we saw when some of your customers reported there were sharp reductions in inventory, notably Ericcson's inventory down 9 days in the last quarter, they're going to take it again down again in Q1. We saw Cisco's inventory down. Does that set you up for a snapback as we move through the rest of the year...

Ronald J. Pasek

Yes. No, our issue with Ericcson -- first of all, Ericcson was -- they were above a 10% customer last quarter so Eric's doing quite well there. What happened was we transitioned from a partner-managed inventory arrangement where we sold to a distributor who then supplied product to Ericcson to a direct VMI arrangement directly with Ericcson. So it really wasn't that they were taking inventory down. There was a transition where we recognized revenue from selling into the distributor to now where we recognize revenue when our customer pulls the inventory. There's a little delay in that, but it's fundamentally a very good arrangement to have and I'm more than happy about that. It was just a little transition issue but not to do with reduction of inventory per se.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

But then the inventory we actually saw is that going to give any incremental value? And there might be room to think that there's a snapback?

Ronald J. Pasek

Yes, I think that's entirely up to the customer, but again, since they're really -- since as a VMI range, we're holding the inventory in our book. It's our inventory so really it's completely off of their books and they're just pulling it when they need it.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Okay. And then on the industrial business, you talked about the weakness in 2012. Everybody saw that, not unique to you guys. A lot of people have seen it starting to come back in the first part of this year. Can you talk about what your expectation is?

Ronald J. Pasek

Yes, I mean, I think you will see it return through the year. I think we guided something like flat to maybe up slightly. But I think, the more robust return is probably later in the year. Industrial is one of the few segments that I really think, ultimately, is a -- is probably most dependent on the macro environment. Because a lot of those decisions are really based on long-term expectations for customers' products in industrial and automotive, industrial automotive equipment.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Okay, great. And then in a general sense, I mean, a lot of companies reported a weaker Q4. It has [indiscernible] outlook, but had some enthusiasm about the linearity of bookings and the recovery in the month of January in the quarter. I don't know if you want to want to get in the monthly bookings but to the extent that the -- I mean, are you seeing the same thing that other people are talking about and what's your assessment on that?

Ronald J. Pasek

Well, I'm not going to comment where we are in the quarter, but what we said on the call on the third week of January was -- or maybe fourth week, book-to-bill at that point was slightly below 1, but when you adjusted for this VMI switch, it was actually above 1. So we were seeing data consistent with what other people were seeing as well.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Okay, great. So maybe if you can talk a little bit about the competitive environment. I mean, we talked about some of the onetime issues that affected you in 2012. But can you talk specific to them, why they grew faster than you did and what you think is going to happen going forward?

Ronald J. Pasek

Yes, I mean, it's the first year in 9 years where we actually lost share, as we described on the call. Most of that share loss was in what we call mainstream and mature products. So basically anything older than 40 and 28. So 2/3 of the share loss was in those older products. And again, to my earlier comment, a lot of that was because of the business we talked about not repeating in 2012, business with that large networking customer and business with the military, which by the way in 2011, was all 40-nanometer business.

I think it's hard to tell where we stand at 28. We're very transparent about our results not only in absolute dollars, but with respect to Stratix, Arria, and Cyclone, as well as our SSE product. It's not clear to me -- I think, probably -- we're probably neck and neck from a revenue standpoint at this point. So at 40-nanometer I think you'll start to see -- again, we have at least 4 quarters of 40-nanometer value that is going to continue to peak. So if you noticed for the last 3 quarters, 40 has been our single largest node and it would continue to be that single largest node for at least another year, at which point, it'll be about 5 years old and start to tail off. So as we continue to see that ramp where we have a 2/3 share, it's hard to imagine not continuing to gain share at 40 and at 28.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Okay. And so 40 will be the biggest portion of revenue for at least 4 more quarters and will presumably then grow?

Ronald J. Pasek

Yes, I mean, what happens at that point is it shows a slow steady decline, like any other node, and at which point, 28 takes its place as becoming the single largest node in a couple years after that. So it's just, really, this is just the last 3 quarters that 40, became the single largest node over 65 and that's a very predictable curve we see for our revenue at each node.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Okay, great. And then at 28, you mentioned reasons why their revenue could be ahead of yours. I mean specifically because the stacked silicon...

Ronald J. Pasek

Actually I said I don't know that it is.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Okay. Sorry. The stacked silicon interconnect opportunity in particular. You guys have talked about it being just a prototyping market. They're bullish on it being more than that. Can you talk about your position there? And I want to probe on that a little bit.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Yes, I think when you put 2 FPGAs together, I think there's limited use for it. Most -- the most common use given it's about a 2-million-logic-element device, is ASIC prototyping. Yes, there are some other uses, but that's the most common use. So what they're doing is something called 2.5D. Instead of true stacked silicon, it's actually side-by-side, again, just 2 FPGAs. What we're working on is something called chip-on-wafer-on-substrate, true 3G heterogeneous stacking. TSMC is our technology partner on that and what we'd be able to do is stack FPGA with CPUs, some other memory -- external memory device, literally any other device. And to do that you have to -- we're investing in and coming out with a really quick interconnect so that the speed at which the devices talk to each other, given their proximity, is taking advantage of that proximity. I think the market for true heterogeneous 3D stacked devices is much, much larger than anything that's just a large FPGA. And that's why we invested in that chip-on-wafer-on-substrate technology.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Okay. I guess, I can see the point that having stacking with heterogeneous devices is a positive, but I also feel like large FPGA has been an important category. And then having an FPGA that can address the largest gate counts is something that has generally been a pretty big positive. And if this enables them to do that, I can why that would be possible. Why don't you think that can be a technology that then moves into production beyond that?

Ronald J. Pasek

Well, because the cost to do this -- the cost to a customer is in excess of $10,000 a unit. It's not something from an ASP standpoint you would actually go into production with. And that's the single largest diameter. I think if you're going to spend that kind of money, you wouldn't really be able to afford to go into production at that much per pop. When we sized that market, it's interesting, but it didn't have a longevity that's consistent with production time of the rest of our products. We estimate 20 nanometers that over the life of true ASIC simulation devices, it's maybe 2 years and about $75 million. And that wasn't really compelling for us. We'd rather put our investment in what I described earlier which is chip-on-wafer-on-substrate.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

And would that be cheaper to do, larger-scale implementation...

Ronald J. Pasek

Yes, and at large-scale implementations you would be able to build those devices, which are not on your own, but are others, and stack in a way that would be commensurate with the socket cost you need.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Okay, great. Let's see if there's any questions from the audience? I'll continue to add some more if there aren't any. Anyone?

Unknown Analyst

Just a quick question. Are there any other hardware vendors or networking vendors that are using a Huawei-like board design with 2 FPGAs where there may be an imminent elimination of an FPGA socket converting to ASIC or anything? Are there any other speed bumps like that, that might be out there that we're unaware at this point?

Ronald J. Pasek

I'm not sure I completely understand the question but are you saying that because of you would have a 2.5D device, that people would convert to an ASIC? I'm not sure what you're saying.

Unknown Analyst

Yes. You mentioned that Huawei had converted to 2 FPGA.

Ronald J. Pasek

Yes. 2 FPGA sockets. Yes. I don't know of any similar situation at that customer, but as I said earlier, I think the reason we have the hard copy product we have is recognizing occasionally customers do get to volume in a socket that was an FPGA, and we'd like to help them transition that socket to a structured ASIC, being our product. Again, the net movement is still in our favor, there's a lot more designs going from, say fixed-function ASIC or ASSP to programmable logic. Occasionally, a socket will move back, but the net over the last several years have definitely been in our favor and I think it will continue to be for the foreseeable future. And that's simply because the cost of doing an ASIC or ASP at the next node is increasing at an exponential rate. You can do an ASIC today at 28 nanometers. It's just going to cost you $80 million and there's fewer and fewer designs that can offset that cost.

Unknown Analyst

Can you talk about how the rising cost of manufacturing might impact your 3-to-5-year type business model? And are you changing the strategy or the cadence by which you're going from 1 node to the next?

Ronald J. Pasek

So I'll start with the last part of your question. So no, we're not changing the cadence. It's been basically every 2 years we'll adopt the next node. And that's generally because of the foundry. I mean you're really getting limited by how quickly your foundry can get to that next node.

I think you're referring to the cost per transistor increasing as opposed to decreasing as it has for many, many years. Given our products and the fact that we build a general-purpose device, that's the same device for all of our end markets, the attributes that our customers care about are a little different than just cost per transistor. At every node when we rev the next FPGA, we do 2 things that are meaningful to customers that transcend cost per transistor. Number one is we add more and more fixed function to the device. So there's quite a bit of the FPGA, roughly half the space of the FPGA, that's actually fixed content. We have hardened DSP on the device. We now harden microprocessors. We have external memory on the device, obviously. At the same time, we're increasing the, what we call the logic elements of the programmable space. So that's really what our customers care about: Are you bringing me more value at the next node in terms of the size, the reduction of power and the shrink that you do obviously at each node anyways.

Unknown Analyst

So that implies you're going to see pricing -- you'll be able to extract price increases from your customers?

Ronald J. Pasek

And we have. I mean, when we into displaced ASICs and ASSPs, it's one of the reasons we've been able to keep our margins so high, because we're usually bringing more value again, given that there's a lot more flexibility to the device. It's at the leading node. They couldn't afford to do the leading node. There's still a lot of fixed content on the device. In many cases, they were paying for discrete components. So they're getting quite a bit of value and we are extracting a lot of value when we displace other people's products.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

But it is when you talk about competing with process nodes that are 3 years old, they're still on a curve where they're seeing price per transistor dropping? You're at one where you might be seeing it level out.

Ronald J. Pasek

Well, again, I don't think our customers look at price per transistor. Again, the price per transistor for a lagging node on an ASIC, they'd still have to pay the increase and then upfront engineering costs to do that next node anyway. And that's what's become so prohibitive.

Unknown Analyst

The whole value proposition is that you guys had 2 nodes had [indiscernible]...

Ronald J. Pasek

Actually we're 3 nodes and soon to be 4 nodes in front of the most common, most frequently started ASIC, which is still 90 nanometers.

Unknown Analyst

[indiscernible] any kind of [indiscernible]

Ronald J. Pasek

I'm sorry. Can you hand her the mic? I'm having a little trouble hearing.

Unknown Analyst

Okay, so as you're 4 nodes ahead, you have a cost and a power advantage?

Ronald J. Pasek

Yes.

Unknown Analyst

Should we start thinking that that advantage starts to narrow, even if just a little bit?

Ronald J. Pasek

No, in fact, because we're -- the significance of being 3 nodes ahead is when you compare the size of us currently say a 28-nanometer FPGA to a 90-nanometer ASIC, they're almost identical in size. So we don't have a cost disadvantage anymore. When we're 4 nodes ahead, the size of a, say 20-nanometer FPGA to a 90-nanometer ASIC, the size of the FPGA would actually be smaller so we'd have a cost advantage. And because it's smaller we'd even have -- further mitigate the power disadvantage still being a general-purpose device.

Okay. So you asked me questions and this just happened to work out this way. So we just had a press announcement about 5 minutes ago. Honestly, we didn't plan it this way. I knew I'd be onstage but only until -- only last week. So we had a major announcement today that we'll be building our next generation high-performance FPGA at 14 nanometers with Intel. So obviously, we're going to be at breakthrough levels of performance and power efficiencies. Intel's product at 14 uses their tri-gate technology, which is their second generation of FinFET technology. So we gain quite a bit of competitive advantage doing that. We still are going to be building a 20-nanometer plainer device with TSMC, but we will also have this 14-nanometer device.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Isn't that interesting?

Ronald J. Pasek

Honestly, this wasn't planned this way. It just worked out.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

And I guess that puts the questions about costs per transistor.

Ronald J. Pasek

Dwight asked for the microphone.

Unknown Analyst

Ron, does that -- by competitive advantage the implication is that your primary competitor does not have a similar relationship nor will they likely? Or what did do you mean by competitive advantage?

Ronald J. Pasek

We are the only major FPGA company that will be using Intel at 14.

Unknown Analyst

[indiscernible]

Ronald J. Pasek

I'm not making a product announcement. We're just using it for their -- our high-performance product.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Does that mean that you won't have -- move to the TSMC 16 nanometer, which is also trying to do that?

Ronald J. Pasek

Yes, we'll do the 20-nanometer plainer, but we'll adopt 14-nanometer Intel.

Unknown Analyst

[indiscernible]

Ronald J. Pasek

We'll talk about the exact time frame in a few months because remember we haven't made any product announcements, really even at 20. We've talked about a technology announcement at 20. I'd be premature to actually talk about the specific product at this point.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

I guess, historically, when we've talked about Intel, the reservation that you guys have raised is will they support a 15-year product life.

Ronald J. Pasek

Yes, so they're going to support a 12-year product life plus a large lifetime buy, which they'll do for us. So I feel very comfortable they'll be able to support our customers all through the life of that node.

Unknown Analyst

For the generalist out here, can you just explain a bit more why Intel gives you a big performance advantage versus currently using TSMC. It's just we're not up to speed on all the nanometers.

Ronald J. Pasek

Well, the most obvious reason is it's, obviously, a smaller nanometer, 14 versus 20, even though 16 is called, 16 FF, it's actually 20 nanometers. But the real key, as you get to these smaller and smaller geometries, is the need for essentially FinFET or technology that prevents transistors from arcing. And Intel's had that technology at 22 and obviously, we'll have that at 14, and it becomes increasingly important as you move down the nodes and that's the biggest reason. TSMC will have it. We feel that this was a -- those of you that talked to me before, you know that we do a constant evaluation of foundry capability, weighing a number of factors, been really open about that and at this point, we just decided this made the most sense. Keep in mind TSMC still is building all of our products and so they're still a very, very important partner to us.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

With that technology advantage then, do you get better transistor costs and better density with Intel? Or is it the actual power consumption of the device or end performance or...

Ronald J. Pasek

It's all of the above. All of the above.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Okay. And can you talk about, I mean, I assume you don't want to get into pricing but...

Ronald J. Pasek

No, I mean, we haven't even announced the products yet. So, obviously, pricing is a good way off. So...

Ronald J. Pasek

Okay. But do you end up paying a premium for that incremental performance benefit that you're getting from Intel that sort of mitigates the...

Ronald J. Pasek

I'm not going to answer that but obviously we made the decision knowing all of the attributes that were important. So I think we're pretty comfortable with what we're doing. You had another question.

Unknown Analyst

Then on TSM, I mean, TSM is developing FinFET as well?

Ronald J. Pasek

Yes.

Unknown Analyst

And moving an entire product from 1 foundry to another is kind of a -- it's a big undertaking.

Ronald J. Pasek

We're not moving a product. We're just doing the next products at the next node. So, remember, it's really difficult to -- if you were to take a product at existing foundry and move it to another foundry, you basically do a whole product redesign. They're really not portable. And that's not what we’re doing. We're just doing the next generation high-end product with Intel. We're not moving anything. Time for one more question.

Unknown Analyst

Can you speak about the R&D costs as you go from 28, 20 to [indiscernible]

Ronald J. Pasek

Yes. So for those that didn't hear the question, was the increase in engineering cost moving from 1 node to the next. There's no question that moving from, say even 40 nanometers to 28 nanometers was a step-up in our R&D. But remember, some of that is a function of how many products we choose to make at each node.

For instance at 40 nanometers, we only did a high-end Stratix product and a mid-range Arria. We didn't do a low-end Cyclone product. At 28, we did 5 products. We did a high end, mid range and low end, plus we're doing the mid range and low end with SoCs on them with our microprocessors built in. That's fairly unprecedented. The most we've ever done in a single node before that was 3.

The benefit we have building a general-purpose device, particularly from an engineering standpoint, as we do product definitions, we look at the costs we're going to incur from an engineering standpoint, but the opportunity we have from an end-market standpoint. And even though R&D maybe going up for each node, the opportunity is increasing at least as fast, if not faster. So the relationship between R&D and revenue is still intact and that's what we look for. So I'm not worried about the increase in R&D. And again, it's also a function of how many products we chose to do at each node.

Joseph Moore - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

I'm sorry, with that, we will have to cut it off because we need the room.

Ronald J. Pasek

Thanks, Joe.

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