Expect Qualcomm (QCOM) to open Thursday's analyst extravaganza with some eagerly awaited good news -- and, quite probably, a less-advertised setback.Responding to a recent announcement by a trio of tech rivals, Qualcomm will unveil its newest generation of chipsets, dubbed the series 7000. The new offerings will bolster the company's efforts to maintain its domination of the code division multiple access, or CDMA, wireless standard that is the dominant form of wireless technology in the U.S. While the new chipsets represent an advance for Qualcomm, the company could be banking on the technology buzz for another reason: To help distract investors from the latest serving of nasty news from its Qualcomm Strategic Initiatives investment arm. CFO Bill Keitel said Wednesday he was expecting to meet with CEO Irwin Jacobs to discuss whether some new undisclosed data points were "material" to the company's previous estimates for QSI. Qualcomm has made several investments in CDMA wireless phone companies -- both domestically, as in the failed Leap Wireless, and abroad, like Mexico's cash-strapped Pegaso. Increasingly, as the market has turned down and cash has grown scarce in the communications industry, the company has found itself on the losing end of those arrangements. Last month, for example, Qualcomm took a $160 million charge to write down the value of impaired assets in its exit from Vesper, a Brazilian phone company it had invested in. Of course, any action in the investment portfolio isn't likely to cause a crisis at Qualcomm. Earlier this week the company reaffirmed its financial guidance, and the QSI financials aren't included in Qualcomm's closely watched pro forma numbers anyway. But with Wall Street turning more bottom-line-oriented than ever, it's a good bet that any problems on the investing front could stick in investors' craw. On Wednesday, Qualcomm rose 42 cents to $31.38, leaving it roughly in the middle of its 52-week trading range.
Keitel says the company has cut the QSI investment funding to $150 million from "several hundred million in years past." As Keitel explains it, thanks to the success of CDMA, the world's fastest-growing wireless technology standard, seed-money investments from Qualcomm aren't as important to phone companies' development. Observers point out that Qualcomm has been taking a beating on its QSI investments and is wise to turn off the cash spigot. On the tech front, the new 7000 chipset family probably will give Qualcomm fans more reason for confidence as a formidable alliance of CDMA chip challengers sets its aim on the standard bearer's market. While an announcement was expected sometime this year, some observers say this early debut signals that Qualcomm isn't willing to sit on its hands. Last week, handset king Nokia ( NOK) and chipmakers Texas Instruments ( TXN) and STMicroelectronics ( ST) said they were jointly developing new CDMA chipsets. Investors saw the venture as a threat to Qualcomm's domination of this lucrative market. Qualcomm doesn't earn royalties from the Nokia chip, though it does stand to reap a percentage of the sales of any handset using CDMA technology. Another expected feature of Qualcomm's analyst day festivities will be the formal introduction of the company's technology president, Sanjay Jha, who took over when his predecessor, Don Schrock, retired in January.