Hittite Microwave's CEO Presents at Deutsche Bank 2013 Technology Conference (Transcript)

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Hittite Microwave Corporation (NASDAQ:HITT) Deutsche Bank 2013 Technology Conference September 12, 2013 1:20 PM ET


Richard Hess - President and Chief Executive Officer

William Boecke - Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer


Unidentified Analyst

We're going to get started with Hittite. We have Rick Hess, the CEO; and Bill Boecke, the CFO of Hittite, who we will start with a brief presentation and go straight into Q&A.

So without further ado, I will turn it over to Rick.

Richard Hess

Thank you. I am Rick Hess, President and CEO of Hittite Microwave. So I got a few slides. I'll go to first just to introduce the company, and then we'll go to Q&A. So obviously we have to start with the Safe Harbor statement. So I'll let you guys read this.

So our strategy has always been and continues to be to focus on complex applications across frequency spectrum. So Hittite has always worked in the high-frequency spectrum in the analog market. And really today, we work all the way from the digital section to all the analog section to the antenna, and radio and radar type applications. We really strive to be the technology leader and so because of that we always look for a sole sourced position, where we're the best performance in the -- have the only product that meets the customers' expectations.

We have a very wide product and market breadth. So we have 36 product lines, I'll go through in a minute, so a very broad offering of products and also a very broad customer breadth. We have over 3,000 customers. So service a lot of markets, a lot of customers and really have a very broad spread that we think works well in difficult markets, so we can continue to perform.

We really have a lot of growth drivers through market growth as well as product expansion, product growth, technology growth and market expanding into new markets. And our real expertise is obviously our engineering. We have about 500 employees. Probably over 300 of those are degreed engineers, mostly electrical engineers. So it is really heavily focused on design and engineering company. As well as we do have a strong manufacturing expertise for our hybrid product side we manufacture.

Obviously, we're fabless company, so all the semiconductor processing is done outside and a large number of our commercial packaging is done outside as well. And obviously, all of that combines to a very strong financial performance from the gross and operating margin point of view and cash generation.

So as I mentioned we have 36 product lines. This has grown dramatically over the last 10 years, where we started out primarily doing control functions of switches and attenuators at Hittite in the early days, and have grown our product offering into amplifiers as well as high-power amplifiers, integrated products, fiber optic products and also integrated assembly.

So you see in the bottom left, that we do a lot of small modules, connectorized modules that we sell. And we're also doing a lot more higher levels of integration, both in the military space as well as our commercial space. And also have some instrumentation we've offered because of our strength in our synthesizer development and synthesizer products that allowed us to offer very low-cost signal generators that we sell in the test and measurement market.

So from a market distribution point of view, this is kind of a generic slide, it does vary quarter-to-quarter. But as you can see military microwave communications, test and measurement and cellular represent a good portion of our revenue. And again, those vary from quarter-to-quarter and those mixes move around.

Space broadband, fiber optic and automotive are smaller segments of our business, automotive being the smallest. The fiber optic and the space segments are our fastest growing markets segments today. But again, they are smaller portion of our business to grow from today.

From a technology point of view, as I mentioned earlier, we really start at the digital interface. So we've now reached back into the analog-to-digital converter and conversion side starting at bits and going to analog, and then through the baseband and upconversion to the microwave and millimeter side of the business. Again, we started from the high-frequency end of things and have moved down to more of the baseband side of integration.

So our growth opportunities really are expanding our new products and we continue to release a lot of new products, both in our current space as well as in new product areas, introducing new product lines. Again, we've expanded to up to 36 product lines at this point and really trying to grow our sales. So we're focusing much more on our existing customers, giving them better service and doing a better job of growing our space within our existing customer base and also addressing new customers and new markets.

As I mentioned, we've moved into the fiber optic space, originally through our original customers in the wireless and wireless infrastructure market, and now are expanding into more of the traditional networking fiber optic space aimed at the 100 gigabit per second market.

And we're also continuing our international expansion. We've added direct sales in France. Continue to look at new territories, where we have coverage today, but not as focused coverage in our direct coverage. So we continue to expand internationally and space is one of those markets where international expansion is really taking hold at this point. So we continue to grow. We continue to focus on growth as well as our high financial performance.

So from a revenue perspective, again you see what we have done traditionally from a growth point of view, the last two years have been relatively flat, and again driven mostly by macroeconomic conditions in our markets. You can see where we are year-to-date Q2 halfway through our year. And from a net income point of view, again you're seeing the net income grow.

It dropped a little bit into 2012 as we had increase in our R&D percentage to really expand our new product introduction and new product development. From a margin perspective, you see pretty consistent performance ranging from 71% as high as 74.5%. And we're pretty consistently in that range in year-to-date. Again, and pretty much, rolling within our margin range.

And from an operating margin point of view, we do target to be between 40% and 45% operating margin. And you see that we've maintained that since 2008. And we're on that track through Q2. Again, in the last two years the operating margin has gone down as we've increased our R&D and that was an intentional and very specific increase to focus on a couple of new product areas and developments.

So our competitive position really again is driven by our strength in our engineering expertise driving to have the best performing products in the segments that we serve in the markets and product areas. Trying to really expand our global footprint and give our customers the best service, increasing our product portfolio and increasing product lines and what part of our drive when we service, really driving new innovation.

And I think one of the keys to Hittite clearly as I've taken over CEO, is the focus on innovation, the drive of our engineers. And the fact, that they love working at Hittite because of that drive for the highest performance and innovation, so that they can really use their expertise to its full force to extent, and the fact that we've been doing this for 28 years.

There's a lot of competitors who want to come after and share our gross margin performance, but this company has been built around high expertise and high performance products and has a lot of experience and depth in being able to do that. And the focus on quality is clearly always there.

We have very high real parts in the space business, all the way down to our commercial customers and we strive to deliver the very highest level of quality in our products. And again, I think that's one of the differentiations that carries us and allows us to perform in the way we do.

So thank you. And we can now move to the question session.

Question-and-Answer Session

Unidentified Analyst

Thanks, Rick. First we -- I want to start out with the broad macro picture. In this conference about a year ago and even two years ago, there were suggestions that end-demand was beginning to fall from cliff more or less. Could you just propose how the back half of this year with the back half of the last year and two proceeding years, how do you see the growth environment going forward and the 3Q and 4Q?

Richard Hess

Certainly it's tough to predict exactly what's going to happen in Q3 and Q4. We certainly expected the macroeconomics and specifically, say in the infrastructure market growth to return there this year. It's not returned to the level that we all expected. But we still see it happening.

Now, exactly whether that happens in this month or whether its next quarter or 2014, it's hard for us to time, but we're clearly seeing movement in China now on the LTE rollout. We're seeing announcements of the shares division between the different OEMs. So that's a positive sign. It clearly tells us that at least that is continuing. And again, hopefully we'll see some of that in Q4. And again, we hope that to continue into 2014.

So again we have seen the promise of growth in the wireless infrastructure market, but it hasn't come to fruition yet. And we certainly again are seeing signs that it will happen. And hopefully it will happen soon rather than later.

Unidentified Analyst

But mainly the -- the typically linearity of 3Q seasonality, how is it -- what is it exactly? And does this year look like it's going to follow that particular pattern?

Richard Hess

We really don't see much seasonality in our business. We don't see much change in Q3 or Q4. So generally our business moves more with the markets than it does with seasonality. So we really don't see a large degree of seasonality in the business.

Unidentified Analyst

And we'll talk a little bit about 2014, what has you the most excited going into next year, with the China at TDLTE was mentioned, but beyond that what gets you excited?

Richard Hess

Well, I think it certainly -- it begins with our new product developments. We've introduced a lot of new products this year and we'll continue to do that into the second half of the year. So I think new product development and the penetration that we're seeing with our products that we've already released into the markets, we're very excited about the growth that we can get from those new products in 2014.

I think the continued rollout of LTE clearly is going to be a driver. And also the other drivers going to be the fiber optic moving more to 100G again, which moves into our product space, where we didn't have products in 10G, but we have got a significant product offering in a 100G. So as that market continues to roll out and 100G developments continue and even moving now to the early years of developing 400G. So we see a lot of opportunity in the fiber optics space.

And on the military cycle, the military markets got some flexibility tool right now and it's hard to predict where that's going to go, but we continue to expand our opportunities in the military markets, so we see the military market continuing to be a good place for us to be and we'll continue to expand our market share in the military segment even if the market is not as robust as maybe it has been in the past.

Unidentified Analyst

Let me open up the audience for questions. Yes.

Unidentified Analyst

[indiscernible] in terms of, I guess internal capital allocation, what are the parameters that you hold your R&D organization to in terms of deciding which projects get funded and which don't as gross margin emphasized, is it percentages of sole sourced revenue or I guess what are the metrics there? And secondly, can you just give us a little background on your decision to raise R&D recently?

Richard Hess

Yes, I think in general we have requirements or we have a document that we have to fill up for every product development process starts that we go through margin expectations, market expectations, growth expectations. And make sure that those products are very carefully targeted to be able to achieve the kind of growth and financial expectations that we have in the business. So we do a pretty rigorous process to make sure that we are developing the right products for the right markets that can maintain our standards of how we operate the business.

And as far as the increase in R&D, really above our traditional R&D spending, there is three areas where we focus to increase in R&D. The first one was in the acquisition we made of Arctic Silicon, which does analog-to-digital converters, so that was one targeted area where it's a new product line for us and new product expansion and significant investment in A-to-D converters.

The product -- we already have product in the market that was previously developed by Arctic Silicon, but the next generation product, we expect the launch by the end of this year, which is a 500-megabit per second A-to-D converters, 16-bits. So that's really the -- will be our next generation product in A-to-D, so very high performance, very unique product in A-to-D market space.

The second area we invested in was fiber optics products. Most of that was done out of our Istanbul Design Center. And again, we've recognized several years ago that the market was moving from 10-gigabits per second to 100-gigabits per second. And as it moved to that range and that speed that it really worked into our expertise in very high-speed, high-frequency type design. And so we targeted to design products for that -- specifically for that 100G rollout. And so that was a second area.

The third area was in gallium nitride, where we saw that gallium nitride, because of its performance differential was going to takeover some of the high power amplifier opportunities that today are supplied by gallium arsenide. And as we are in that market today we saw we need to have increased investment focused in gallium nitride. So we open a design center in Virginia focusing primarily on gallium nitride power amplifier development.

So those are the three kind of major areas. Now there were some minor tweaks so we did do R&D to increased focus, but those are the three major areas where we're focused on.

Unidentified Analyst

I have a few questions, if you go back first and then if you look forward. First, on the fundamental side of things, you guys historically have delivered always very, very solid margins and typically pretty good growth too, relative to the market. Now a couple of flat years in a row is a little bit of surprise. I know the market as a whole didn't grow and the analog market even was down last year. So maybe on a relative basis you're still outperforming, but what was the cause of being flat year-over-year and what's sub-segments may have proved to be a bit of a disappointment, whether it was an end-market dynamic or something company-specific to Hittite?

Richard Hess

Yes. I think you're absolutely right, that two years flat is I think unusual for Hittite and its growth model. And we really think it was macroeconomically driven. And clearly the biggest disappointment is inside the infrastructure market. And again it has taken longer to roll LTE out than I think was expected. I think that coming in with that 3G deployments were tailing off and so it just -- the crossover we expected to happen with LTE coming up faster than 3G was coming down. And that didn't happen.

So it's been delayed and it's been moved out. So I think that's the biggest driver and that drives not only the -- say, the infrastructure side of the business, but also it affects the microwave backhaul side of the business, because that obviously has driven by the base station installations. And also somewhat to fiber optic rollout, because that -- a lot of that, our initial design-ends are in backhaul or say the base station.

So there is really three of our market segments that are affected by the slowdown in LTE rollout. So I think that's clearly has been a drag on our growth. Now, on the other side, test and measurement over the last year has been a very positive sign for us. So that market actually performed better than we expected, partly driven by people billing out the test infrastructure for LTE deployment, so that was a very solid market for us.

Military has been pretty flat over the last year or two. Again, we've got some very solid programs, but obviously with sequestration everything going on, that's not been -- that has not helped our market growth from that perspective. So yes, I think it's been primarily the macroeconomics on our markets. And again, we have increased our R&D spend, but we usually see about a three-year timing between the peak we get and the real delivery we get at out of our R&D, when that shows up to revenue. So even though our R&D has increased over the last couple of years, the real impact of that R&D increase won't be felt until 2014 and specifically 2015.

Unidentified Analyst

The cellular infrastructure side of things is something we've heard across multiple companies at this conference, saying kind of it's been slow in the pace, but the word yet is coming out. We haven't seen it yet, but we're very confident we will. Are you at all concerned that some of this is a bit more of a zero-sum game where the spending in the 3G side goes down, the spend on the LTE comes up, but the net change is not as accretive as for whatever reason that you one time hoped, because it seems to me have seen globally some rollout of LTE, clearly not in China, but the U.S. infrastructure has built out to a certain extent and there is some few regions that have. And we still haven't seen much from the comm infrastructure business on the wireless side from any number of companies, again nothing specific to Hittite.

Richard Hess

Yes, I do think that clearly is a concern, but we still see the demand out there for more and more data bandwidth. So we still see the LTE rolling out. And I think the other factor is going to entering here is small cell that hasn't happened yet. And again, we -- the talk was that it should be starting now and that's been delayed. So we do see that there is still a lot of potential for increased demand and increase volumes in the infrastructure rollout.

And again, things like small cell will drive higher backhaul, microwave backhaul, which again I think will benefit Hittite specifically, because we're a strong player in that market. So we still do see it growing specifically from the Hittite perspective, as LTE continues to roll out and more infrastructure rolls out. So we still there is a growth opportunity. Again the trade-off between 3G and 4G will affect different companies differently. But we see it as a positive from our perspective.

Unidentified Analyst

That's actually a perfect segue to my follow-up question. Some companies when I asked them that trade-off question, yes, that maybe a bigger issue than we thought originally, but the content story is still better for 4G than it was for 3G. So even if it's kind of unit the same, the ASPs could be better, the number of products you have in 4G. Whatever the case may be, the dollar content goes up. Is that a valid dynamic for Hittite? And if you could give any color on kind of what you believe your content does generation to generation and maybe different products, end-market application that you addressed in 4G that you didn't in 3G?

Richard Hess

I think that definitely holds true for Hittite. We have I think a higher level of content in 4G than we had in 3G. Some of that's because of complexity of 4G. 4G is broader band, it covers a lot more bands, has a lot more complexity to the bandwidth of the data that goes through it, has more complexity in bandwidth of the backhaul that goes with it. So I think just the complexity level going up in 4G itself drives more content for Hittite. And I think it will help from that perspective. And that, again, even if -- as you said, if the volumes are the same, we'll still see a pick up in our revenue.

Unidentified Analyst

The last question on that front and not to put too fine a point on it, because I know, I'm not sure any company know for sure. But it's always been one quarter beyond what any companies guide to for at least the last year or so as far as when the China business or an LTE is going to matter. If you had to take your best guess today, is it a 4Q, 1Q, 2Q next year, when do you think the ramp actually begins in a meaningful enough way that companies can finally say, see, we can, they can remove the yet from their answers.

Richard Hess

I don't think I can answer that. I don't think I can nail down to a quarter. But again, I think what we see is a positive sign that's been that China Mobile has announced at least the first release. And that to announcing out first release, they've decided who gets what share. And so there is starting to be some definition, so I see that as encouraging.

I think hopefully we'll start to see it in Q4. We'll start to see some of those turned into real orders and business for Hittite. But it's hard to know until -- again, we're fairly conservative. And as you saw in our Q3 guidance, we said we're not going to bake it until we see it, and we still hold that. And so we'll see how it happens.

Our lead times are pretty short. They're six to eight weeks. So we traditionally don't see it until it is like right upon us, but they really started to rollout and we'll start to see our orders and our revenue pick up. So we probably lag a little bit some of the other suppliers, who may have longer lead times and maybe will see it before we do.

Unidentified Analyst

If we switch gears over to the fiber optic side of things, like the wireline side. Talk a little bit about where you're addressing the 100 gig side? Any sort of change in the competitive landscape? And what do you believe Hittite can bring to that market that can add value for 100 gig that you play in prior?

Richard Hess

I think clearly the 100 gig space -- again, Hittite's design expertise is high-frequency high-speed. And as they move to 100 gig, we can offer better product performance. We understand the semiconductor technology at those kind of speeds better than a lot of other people. So I think that's what we bring to the party technically.

Our approach to the market was really to start in the fiber optic space, focusing on our current customer base. So we targeted initially in our product development as well as our customer development and with the customers in the wireless infrastructure space. So most of our current design-ins and majority of our current design-ins are in the wireless infrastructure space.

We started about a year or so addressing more the networking side of that. So we're starting to see some designs into new customers. But these are new customers to us in the traditional network backhaul space. So we expect to ramp up and the rollout in our design-in wins to be slower in that area than it was in the wireless infrastructure side. Nonetheless, we are seeing very good penetration there and continued acceptance from those new customers.

Unidentified Analyst

What are some of the specific products or functions you're addressing?

Richard Hess

It's modulator drivers, clock data recovery, circuits and some transimpedance amplifier, that's kind of our next generation product we're going to focus on to introduce there. So it's all primarily in the module space. And as they rollout the CP2 and CP4 modules, again we see a big opportunity for us to get higher penetration.

Unidentified Analyst

And the next company that's going to be up on stage does some of that already.

Richard Hess

They do a lot of bit of that.

Unidentified Analyst

They do a lot of in CMOS. Actually I assume you are using exotic materials to address that?

Richard Hess

We're using primarily gallium arsenide and silicon germanium today to address that market space. Again, because we're targeted into very high performance end and those technologies are really the expertise that we use. So we are using some CMOS, but most of our focus is on silicon germanium and gallium arsenide.

Unidentified Analyst

So if 100 gig by itself seems like it's by definition high performance. Do you believe there is room within 100 gig in this lot of other functions of course, but for TIAs and other things that you're mentioning about, seems like CMOS and gas existing at such a high-end application, it's a little bit odd. I would usually, historically see the CMOS side being a follower, maybe fast follower, but follower nonetheless. How do you compete if in fact CMOS can do it with the scale of advantage that they have like the potential cost advantage, but often times are performing disadvantage, how do you balance against those competitors?

Richard Hess

Again, I think we've always strived for the high performance side of things to serve that piece. If CMOS performance does get up to the point where it's competitive and we can meet the performance requirements necessary, we certainly have that capability and have the understanding to do CMOS design and have done quite a bit of CMOS design. So we're always trying to pick the best process for this specific application.

And whether that's gallium arsenide, silicon germanium or CMOS, whatever we can get to performance with at the best cost, that's what we'll use. So we will -- we do keep open the flexibility. But again, we think we have the understanding of the high performance processes and we can optimize the cost by giving more efficient designs than other people might be able to do, so that we can compete with the CMOS.

Unidentified Analyst

Maybe the last question on that and this could be more for Bill, but the new product development moving on to the wireline side of the fiber optics side, whether it's supplied to wireless backhaul or wireline, is there anything that changes the margin model getting into those businesses?

William Boecke

Generally no. We design and select products that we're going to design. We're generally looking for again the high performance, high applications, by definition they are going to have good pricing and they should have good margins. If they don't, we're not going to be successful in that market to being with. So we're probably going to avoid it.

Unidentified Analyst

And the R&D load to address those, I think Rick, you mentioned earlier, is it fair to assume that most of that is in the rearview mirror now? You've already done a lot of the heavy lifting to get the new product launches going, and now it's about growing the revenue on top of it?

Richard Hess

Yes. I think that's generally true. But we're always doing R&D and we're always bringing out new products. And again, I think that's one of Hittite successes is that we've been very good at replacing ourselves. And including migrating technologies to do it, so there is a lot of examples where we've might ready from gallium arsenide to silicon germanium to replace our current product offerings and being able to achieve the same or better performance, higher levels of integration or a lower cost. So we do continue to replace ourselves. And again, I think that's one of the reasons why we don't get obsoleted out of markets and product cycles, just because we're not afraid to replace our own products with better performing products.

Unidentified Analyst

And I guess similar to the original question from another audience member, the OpEx side of the equation not from an R&D side, but when you're investing to expand your sales force, your geographic reach, your end market reach et cetera, and you have long time to market design wins, how do you balance the upfront R&D OpEx, et cetera, versus the long time to revenue side, so that the two don't get particularly out of whack in anyone year.

Richard Hess

Yes. It is clearly part of the model that we have to balance. Sales and marketing happens pretty quickly, so the return is not so delayed on the sales and marketing side. And we actually look to some plots here today that as we've increased our sales and marketing direct force, it's pretty aligned and tracks pretty closely to our revenue growth. So it's a pretty close tie there, R&D is a very different situation where as I mentioned it's about a three year return.

So again, we have to make very specific decisions when we're going to increase our R&D substantially as we did two years ago, that that's intentional. We understand the impact it will to OpEx. I would say we thought the revenue was going to come quicker. So it has been a longer period in which our OpEx is staying down in the 40% range, where we thought that we'll get the revenue growth sooner, but again we think that's a macro effect is happen there.

So we make those trade-offs and make those decisions as we look at our strategic plan and figure out where we're going to invest our R&D. So it is a conscious decision. And again in general, it's worked well, but in this case our revenue growth was delayed because the markets were delayed.

Unidentified Analyst

The last question from me, you mentioned that the test and measurement side has been the positive versus the kind of the waiting that everybody has been doing for the LTE side to actually rollout. To the extent the test and measurement side was benefiting from some of the pre-work on LTE, once that actually starts rolling out, what do you expect the test and measurement side of the company to do? Will that fall off, because now you've moved out of that phase for that end-market in general or are there other things that can pickup the demand?

Richard Hess

No. There is -- it's not falling off, but we don't expect to see continued growth within the next few quarters in test and measurement. So we see it returning to more of the flat market. We do have other test and measurement opportunities. We're exploring in other areas of high-speed test beyond our traditional kind of RF and microwave test area. So we are continuing to pursue other opportunities in other product offerings in the test and measurement market. So we can continue to see some level of growth into that market even though the market is not growing.

And then the next generation, we see is that at some point LTE advance where the test side of that will rollout. And we think that will require a new test infrastructure again, as LTE advance rolls out. And we don't know the timing of when that will happen. But we do see that as a long-term horizon that will cause another growth opportunity in the test and measurement field.

Unidentified Analyst

Switching back to carrier infrastructure side for a little bit. We've heard that carriers need to increase their CapEx, what is your view on that in the back half of the year, going into 2014, how does that look?

Richard Hess

Well, again, from our position there was lot of other companies that understand that infrastructure better and exactly how that capital spending is going to happen. There is no doubt -- I mean I can tell by looking at my kids, that the data demand is going up, not down. And I think the key is how do the carriers get reward for that and paid for that that will allow them to make that capital spend. But that's a market dynamic. That's beyond what we can troll or really understand or monitor. We're more looking at kind of our demand that we see from our OEMs.

Unidentified Analyst

You have talked about the competitive landscape. Have you noticed any changes there over the last six months and what keeps your competitive position [indiscernible].

Richard Hess

Well, I think there is no doubt that the competition is not decreasing. And it's increasing all the time, because people look at our performance and our margins and everybody wants to have them. So the competitive landscape continues to be challenging. But it always has been. I mean Hittite has always been in this position and people see what we're doing and want to copy it and compete with us. But the companies, been doing this for a very long time. A lot of other companies are new to this model are going after very high performance areas of the market.

And so they're still coming up that curve and we've been doing this a long time. And I think in our technical expertise or tactical advantage, our ability to assess the markets and figure out what products are needed keeps us ahead. And we've got to keep doing that in order to maintain our business.

Unidentified Analyst

Great. And with that, we will say right on time. Thank you so much.

Richard Hess

Thank you.

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