What can be more useless than a stock downgrade after the significant drop? The rating of "Speculative Risk” from Citigroup’s Glen Young is the last of a series of downgrade given to AMD. And the reasons this time around are:
“… reflects recent product delays, the continued challenging landscape for microprocessor and graphics processor pricing and the increased volatility of AMD’s shares versus its peers [Intel, NVIDIA]… we see little prospect for [market] share momentum in coming quarters, and expect poor financial performance as a result,” he wrote in a research note this morning. “We look for management to provide a viable restructuring solution as a means to revisit our rating on the shares...”
We’ve discussed AMD’s need to restructure several times since the beginning of the year and the pressure only builds up as AMD continues to delay any announcements. But to be fair, restructuring is easier said than done which is probably why AMD hasn’t fully come forward with any plans. Invariably this is due to the lengthy discussions with legal and creditors about which course of action to take. While some companies restructure voluntarily like IBM or HP others go for bankruptcy which allows protection from creditors and gives the new administration more power to make drastic changes. For AMD and just about any semiconductor company with short product lifecycle, bankruptcy is not a favourable option.
Normally I would say that AMD doesn’t have a lot of options but if I was forced to give a few examples, this is what they would be:
- Keep the status quo, ride out the bad weather and hope for a miracle that the business picks up at least until they break even. Microprocessor volume demand grows ~15% YoY so AMD can sit around with two Fabs and wait for demand to outstrip supply. The only problem with this strategy is that it may take forever all the while being at the mercy of Intel's ability to manipulate pricing.
- Shut down Fab30 at the end of 90nm. If AMD wishes to return to profitability, this is a quick and effective move. Running 2 Fabs was made on an assumption that margins would be at least >45%. Clearly the environment has changed and AMD needs to face this reality. While this also helps AMD avoid the cost of upgrading the Fab to become cost competitive, this reduces AMD’s fixed cost, limiting the day to day cash haemorrhage. The challenge with this option and any other plan to sell or reduce headcount is the covenant they have with the German/EU government.
- Sell ATI. They already have the technology they need. They don’t need the additional quarterly loses. ATI will only continue to wither away if it continues to be under AMD. Not being able to deal and cooperate with Intel with equal footing as NVIDIA is a major disadvantage ATI doesn’t need right now. Separating the two companies can only be good for both.
- Go 100% Fabless. AMD’s margins are now close to ATI’s that this may only be the only viable solution. They can only blame themselves for rapidly commoditizing the industry. Of course we’re not talking about something immediate but rather in steps similar to #2 – shutting down the Fab once the process node becomes obsolete. We’re talking at the end of 65nm.
- Aggressive outsourcing. This is the mostly likely option AMD could take with a massive production offload to Chartered or TSMC, mostly for low ASP volume runners. Capital avoidance at 45nm makes this extremely attractive next year.
- Focus on niche. This requires a massive u-turn in its philosophy of “breaking the monopoly”. AMD definitely has the technology and roadmap to exit commoditized segments while delivering only on key markets. This will require a massive reduction in production capacity and headcount but if executed perfectly will protect AMD from Intel’s pricing pressure.
- Any combination with varying degrees of items 1-6 above.
AMD can still find a way out of bankruptcy. It’s just a matter of leadership adopting a different mantra and understanding that they don’t need to continue to knock heads with Intel in order to survive. In fact it is when they started deviating from Intel’s design approach and went ahead with their own ideas that they created their best product. Maybe it’s time for AMD to do the same with their business strategy.