Broadcom CEO Is Sacrificing Sales to Avoid a Future Crash

(Bloomberg) — When Broadcom Inc. reported slower sales growth than some of its peers on Thursday, Chief Executive Officer Hock Tan gave a surprising reason: It was on purpose. 

Even with demand for its chips surging, the company is tightly controlling which orders it fills, he said on a conference call Thursday following Broadcom’s third-quarter report. The idea is to sacrifice some current sales to avoid creating a glut in the future. 

“We can show bigger numbers, but that means we will build inventory in the wrong places,” Tan said. The company is applying “discipline to supply” and focusing on where it’s really needed, he said.

The unusual situation — one of the world’s biggest chipmakers deliberately suppressing earnings — is the latest sign of upheaval in the $400 billion semiconductor market. The industry is racing to meet a huge spike in demand as the economy rebounds from the pandemic and companies stock up on components. Tan said some of that demand is “unsustainable.”

In other words, if he sells too many chips to certain customers now, demand will crash later.

Other big U.S. chipmakers are coming off a bumper quarter. Qualcomm Inc. reported sales growth of 63%, and Nvidia Corp. posted a 68% surge.

But even if Broadcom isn’t growing as fast as some chipmakers, it’s still been topping Wall Street estimates. In the fiscal third quarter, which ended Aug. 1, Broadcom’s profit rose to $6.96 a share, excluding some items. Revenue jumped 16% to $6.78 billion. Analysts had predicted a profit of $6.85 a share on sales of $6.76 billion.

Revenue in the fourth quarter will be about $7.35 billion. That compares with an average analyst estimate of $7.23 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

But investors shrugged at the results: The stock was up just under 1% in premarket trading in New York Friday. The shares had increased 12% this year through Thursday’s close.

Broadcom’s Tan has reshaped the chip industry with a series of acquisitions that turned his company into one of the largest makers of the crucial electronic components. The reach of its products — from smartphones to powerful computer networking machinery — means the company is a bellwether for demand across the economy.

The latest results reflected strength in markets such as the cloud, 5G infrastructure, broadband and wireless technology, Tan said. Broadcom’s wireless connectivity chips are used in Apple Inc.’s iPhone and other smartphones. Its switch silicon and custom designs are essential parts of data centers owned by cloud computing giants such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Inc.’s AWS. Broadcom is also a major provider of silicon used in set-top boxes and home-networking gear.

Like many of its peers, Broadcom relies heavily on outsourced production of its chips, and the U.S. company is one of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.’s largest customers. A surge in demand has caused industrywide shortages of many chips.Tan was one of the first leaders in the industry to point to this crunch and move his customers to long-term, noncancelable orders. The San Jose, California-based company has said that it’s basically sold out for the rest of this year and has assured investors that its noncancellation policy means customers aren’t hoarding inventory, the usual precursor to a collapse in demand.

(Updates with shares in ninth paragraph)

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