Thursday, August 19, 2010

Intel and McAfee - How Much Does It Help Intel, Really?

Interesting to see the news this morning that Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) is taking out McAfee (NYSE: MFE) for $7.7 billion in cash, or $48 a share.

On first look, that is not a terribly bad premium for McAfee. Sure, it is a 60% premium, but probably only around a 20% premium to fair value. I do not happen to think that any company should make a habit of routinely buying other companies for *any* premium to fair value, but this is the real world and I gave up on that particular crusade years ago.

Most people probably know McAfee - it is the largest pure security software company (Symantec (Nasdaq: SYMC) has expanded to a point where it is not purely security software). McAfee is best known for protecting individual PCs and networks, but Intel is doing this deal for the possibilities in wireless security.

Intel is clearly focused on expanding into mobile/wireless devices like smartphones. Like Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), Intel is finding it difficult to replicate its success and dominance in the traditional PC space into the wireless space. But as Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) have so ably demonstrated, the future looks more and more like the iPhone and Droid and less like the HP laptop that I am using right now.

For now, at least, chip companies like ARM Holdings (Nasdaq: ARMH) (which is actually a technology developer and licensor, not a chip company), Samsung, Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) and Infineon (Nasdaq: IFNNY) have major roles in smartphones and Intel mostly does not. Obviously that is not a tenable situation for Intel.

Will McAfee really give them a leg up? I do not doubt that integrating better security technology into hardware is a good idea, but I am not sure how this gives Intel an enduring leg up. Is "built in" security technology all that important or valuable? I am not an engineer, so maybe I am missing something, but the answer does not seem to be an obvious, resounding "yes".

If nothing else, this deal probably cools the rumor that Apple makes a bid for Infineon to block Intel from making a deal. Intel has enough cash to buy both, but the challenges of integrating the two companies would be pretty significant.

I was modestly positive on Intel before this deal, but I will have to do so more reading before I say definitively whether it stays on my watch/buy list. My sneaking suspicion is that this deal does not really add any incremental leverage to Intel and that it is a lost opportunity to make a bigger splash and position the company better for share gains in the smartphone market.

Follow up - In the original post, I forgot to mention Intel's prior acquisition of Wind River and how this McAfee deal sort of follows along the same lines. I definitely think there is a solid future for embedded systems, and security would seem to be a logical part of that. Maybe this deal has more to do with bulking up Wind River, then? 

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