China, meanwhile, is upset over its continuing, and rising, trade deficit in semiconductors, partly caused by Qualcomm's intellectual property. It is using its antitrust law to go after both holders of global mobile standards: Qualcomm and InterDigital (IDCC).
The government is talking of imposing fines of up to $1 billion, but its aim seems to be to cut the 4% licensing fees network operators and phone makers routinely pay for technologies such as Qualcomm's LTE Advanced, which is now being rolled out nationwide at a cost of $120 billion.
China's antitrust moves would appear to benefit MediaTek, a Taiwanese company. MediaTek's MT6592 chip is getting strong reviews and costs just half what Qualcomm charges for its competing Snapdragon 800 chip.
If Qualcomm cuts a deal with China, it will be under pressure elsewhere, and from MediaTek. If it plays hardball it could still lose and find itself in a worse position.Mollenkopf is not a China hand. He came up through engineering and product development, holding several patents and serving on the Semiconductor Industries Association board. Qualcomm bears are also questioning the company's decision to kill its Smart TV chip, the Snapdragon 802, which was just introduced at January's Consumer Electronics Show. With Apple (AAPL), a key customer, rumored to be readying a TV product for later this year, bears will ask whether the company is losing its touch. But overall, this is still a growth stock. Although there are plenty of reasons to question Qualcomm's future performance, and its price sets a very high bar for that performance, great stocks are in the habit of climbing such walls of worry. Of the 44 analysts following the stock only one has put out the sell sign, with five reiterating their buy rating just last week. The buyers have been right for a long time. At the time of publication the author owned shares of AAPL.
Follow @danablankenhorn This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.
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