News Column

Wolfson sees losses more than double

February 6, 2014

GREIG CAMERON; GREIG CAMERON DEPUTY BUSINESS EDITOR

WOLFSON Microelectronics has blamed a "volatile" consumer device market for its losses more than doubling.

The Edinburgh microchip maker was affected by the withdrawal of Blackberry from the smartphone arena, lower sales of the Microsoft Surface tablet and the quicker than expected movement of consumers from 3G to 4G, which hit some sales at its biggest customer Samsung.

Blackberry is believed to have gone from Wolfson's second largest customer in 2012 to zero sales in the second half of 2013.

But better revenue from other customers, which include Lenovo, Sharp and LG, meant Wolfson's total revenue for the 52 weeks to December 29 was relatively flat at $179.4 million (pound(s)110m) , against $179.7m for the previous year.

However pre-tax losses widened from $9.3m to $20.3m. That included $2.4m of severance costs as well as a $1.7m writedown related to some older technology.

Gross margin dipped from 46.9% to 42.3%, which was attributed to sales of an individual part to a single customer. Wolfson said the part was now being replaced by one with a higher value and higher margin.

Mike Hickey, chief executive, said: "We had a lot of momentum going into the year and had a record first quarter. From a revenue point of view, apart from our top two customers, we increased by around 50%."

The annual results sent Wolfson's share price tumbling 5p, or 3.85%, to close the day at 125p.

Mr Hickey warned the first few months of 2014 were likely to be tough but he believes the second six months will see a rapid acceleration in sales. He said: "We think things will improve this year as new products launch."

In expectation of that ramping up of activities Wolfson has signed a three-year $25m finance facility with Royal Bank of Scotland.

Mark Cubitt, finance director, said: "If we have one of the customers ramp up orders then we have got to make sure we are not limited from building that inventory.

"That facility is purely there to fund growth, not for any other reason. We have no debt and $26 million in the bank."

Mr Cubitt said forward sales visibility was limited to five or six weeks, but he remained hopeful Wolfson would see an upswing later this year.

He said: "What we do know is we are engaging with a lot of customers on their platforms and phones that are coming to market. If they come to market and sell, then we should be in quite a good position.

"The big unknown is if the platforms become a success. What we can do is make sure we can have as much of the available phones that come to market as possible and that maximises the chances we are in the ones that sell."

The company highlighted it was continuing to see its products designed into a growing range of devices, including voice-activated fridges, washing machines and hoovers. Its components are also in 14 Chinese smartphone brands, with that market the biggest in the world.

The growing transition to internet-enabled televisions and cameras is also an area Mr Hickey is confident that Wolfson can exploit. He said: "A lot of customers we have served for years are making their applications smarter."

Wearable technology - from smartwatches to Google glasses - is a further area the company is expecting to make more sales in.

Mr Hickey said: "We are already participating in that if they play music but also again in voice control."

He also highlighted the possibility of Wolfson's chips being used for wearable devices to monitor health.

A cost-cutting and redundancy programme is expected to be completed by the first quarter of this year and lead to around $10m of savings. Fewer than 20 UK staff were made redundant, with only a small number leaving from the 280 employed in Edinburgh.


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Source: Herald, The (Scotland)


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