Micron Technology Inc. (NASDAQ: MU) has had a solid week, with its shares bouncing handily on the heels of a reported $23 billion buyout offer from China’s Tsinghua Unigroup. There is just one problem, and that is not just that it may be a low-ball buyout offer. This proposed deal either will or should be blocked by U.S. regulators.
24/7 Wall St. has a thought here that should seriously be considered, and it comes with an up-front admission that the odds of success would seem to be very low. Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) should make a matching bid for Micron, with a promise of matching any such bid by Tsinghua Unigroup. Admittedly, U.S. and international regulatory bodies almost certainly would be all over Intel, trying to block this effort. That being said, there have not yet been enough loud voices against a proposed Chinese chip-making giant buying Micron.
Another complication comes up as well here. Intel has a working collaboration with Tsinghua Unigroup. Intel even invested roughly $1.5 billion for what was reported as a 20% stake in Tsinghua Unigroup. Intel may worry that reaching for Micron could harm its relationship with the Chinese outfit. Again, a merger of this magnitude is larger than mere share prices.
What is at stake here in a proposed acquisition of Micron by China is not just an issue of national pride. It is an issue of national security. Micron is U.S.-based and has much of its operations and many of its more than 30,000 employees here inside the United States. It claims to have the broadest memory solutions portfolio in the semiconductor industry, and it says that it holds over 20,000 patents. Micron makes critical DRAM and flash memory that is used in electronics, personal computers, internal systems and just about everything short of a basic toaster or wind-up alarm clock. That involves military, defense, law enforcement, government, corporate and consumer electronics alike.
This proposal also would have an implication for Altera Corp. (NASDAQ: ALTR). Intel is trying to acquire this programmable logic devices-maker for $54 per share in a deal valued at some $16.7 billion. If the deal goes through, then Altera will become a unit of Intel, targeting existing and new customer sales. Intel signaled that it will continue Altera’s support and development of ARM-based and power management products.
As of July, Intel did not seem to have an assured regulatory clearance in its effort to acquire Altera. The company said that it expected a period of six to nine months to close the deal, and that was more than six weeks ago. If Altera is being acquired for $54, then the current price of $50.30 indicates that there is at least some regulatory risk to the deal closing.
Back to regulatory deal risk: The desire for Tsinghua Unigroup to buy up Micron almost has to be challenged by U.S. regulators. The Chinese would not allow a U.S. technology giant to come into China and buy up one of its top technology players. The Chinese might block a deal like that out of pride or security, and they have laws about what foreign companies can really own in China.
Tsinghua Unigroup is a Chinese company that is part of what is considered to be China’s top science university, Tsinghua University. To make an easy reference, let’s just call this the MIT-equivalent of China. And let’s not overlook the notion that China owns and controls state assets and entities. In late 2013, Tsinghua Unigroup made two acquisitions, of Spreadtrum and of RDA Microelectronics. Those were even larger than its market cap, so where did the funds come from? It is no secret at all that China wants to have its own dominant technology sector.