Despite competition, Qualcomm continues to expand its territory

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, left, and Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs talk about Windows-based products with Qualcomm technology during Jacobs' keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show on Jan. 7 in Las Vegas. (Associated Press)
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, left, and Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs talk about Windows-based products with Qualcomm technology during Jacobs' keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show on Jan. 7 in Las Vegas. (Associated Press)

You may not have heard of Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM), but its technology is found inside just about every smartphone, from Androids to Apple devices. The company not only makes semiconductors, but also derives billions annually from the licensing of its many patents.

Qualcomm collects a 3 percent to 5 percent royalty on the sale price of each cellular device sold. It offers a 2 percent dividend yield, too, with the payout having doubled in just a few years.

Qualcomm does face formidable competition, such as from Intel and Broadcom, but it’s still a dominant force, with a recent market share of 53 percent for smartphone applications processing.

Growth prospects for Qualcomm are solid as it expands into territory such as telemedicine, where it connects medical devices, facilitating the capture and transfer of biometric data, among other things.

Indeed, CEO Paul Jacobs sees Qualcomm’s mobile technology playing a role in everything from medicine to virtual reality-like interfaces between the physical world and the Internet, with the potential for products such as wearable computing devices and other mobile-savvy inventions transforming the world.

Bears worry about competition and a slowdown in the smartphone market, but with a recent price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio near 18, well below its five-year average of 24, Qualcomm deserves consideration.

Ask the Fool

Q: Is there a best time of day, week, month or year to buy stocks? – A.K., Pueblo, Colo.

A: The best time isn’t found on a calendar or clock – it’s different for each person. To determine if you’re ready to buy a stock, ask yourself whether you’ve done enough research to be confident that the company is financially healthy and growing, has sustainable advantages over its competitors and has a promising future. Then determine whether the current stock price is low enough to offer a good chance of growth.

Some terrific companies might be priced so high that it’s hard to rationally imagine them advancing much more in the next few years.

Evaluating a company’s fair value is not easy, though. Measures such as price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios and price-to-cash-flow ratios can help, but in order to keep improving your results, keep learning more. You can do so at and at

Once you’re confident you’ve found a great company selling at a good or great price, that’s the best time to buy.

My dumbest investment

My dumbest investment was buying a house in Las Vegas in October 2007. After only two years, it had lost about 40 percent of its sales value – while I was sleeping in it. Two refinances later, and now a planned strategic sale by the end of the year, and I’m hoping I can get out of this “investment” essentially even (with the bonus of having lived in it for six years). I will be completely debt-free! But I’ll also be homeless, looking for a single-level, three-bedroom, two-bath rental. – M., online

The Fool responds: Housing markets can be surprisingly volatile at times, and it can be a mistake to think of your primary home as an investment. For one thing, over the long run, on average, stocks tend to grow in value more rapidly. There are upsides to buying a home, such as equity growth, but there are other considerations, too, such as taxes, insurance, maintenance, repairs and utility costs.

You can often save money by renting a home, and if you sock those savings into a retirement account, you can often build an equity-like nest egg.

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