The U.S.-China trade battle enters an important new phase. The South China Morning Post is reporting that China’s Ministry of Commerce will clear Qualcomm’s pending $44 billion acquisition of NXP Semiconductors. One independent source also conveyed the same news to TechCrunch, although there has been no official word from Qualcomm, NXP or China at time of publication.
That acquisition was expected to close months ago, but the Chinese government repeatedly delayed its assent to the deal as part of its ongoing fight with the Trump administration over the future of bilateral trade. China’s ministry remained the last competition authority worldwide pending to approve the deal, and presumably it will close rapidly now that antitrust review has been completed.
The news of the approval broke just as The Wall Street Journal reported that the White House has authorized $50 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods. The final list of goods that will be subject to the tariffs has not been released, although TechCrunch has done a data analysis on the last set of tariffs, which focused on aluminum and steel imports. Direct news from the White House is expected Friday.
There has been a studied response and counter-response between the two countries over trade the past year, as both Presidents Trump and Xi Jinping sought high ground over the spat. The most recent set of issues has concerned ZTE, which was offered a reprieve by President Trump only to have its fate brought to Congress for a decision this week.
In my analysis on ZTE’s potential death sentence, I wrote this afternoon that:
Ironically — and to be clear on this view, I am not getting this from sources, but rather pointing out a unique strategy vector here — it might well be Qualcomm that uses its DC policy shop to try to save ZTE. Those lobbyists protected Qualcomm from a takeover by Broadcom earlier this year, and it could try to make the case to Congress that it will be irreparably damaged if legislators don’t back off their threats.
The timing of the approval for Qualcomm could come with an understanding that it help ZTE with its congressional woes. Qualcomm has already agreed to form a strategic partnership with Baidu in the interim around AI and deep learning, which one source said to me was part of a package of concessions offered to placate Beijing.
Without a doubt, the news will prove a rare bit of relief for Qualcomm, which has been buffeted by challenges over the past year, including its hostile takeover battle with Broadcom and ongoing patent lawsuits with some of its biggest customers like Apple. Shareholders are likely to be enthusiastic with the outcome, and the stock was up 3 percent in after-hours trading following the news.
The acquisition of NXP is expected to provide a new set of technologies and patents for Qualcomm, particularly in strategic growth spaces like automotive, where Qualcomm has been weak on its product side.