Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Magma Design's Shareholder Meeting (2009)

I attended Magma Design Automation Inc.’s (LAVA) shareholder meeting on September 17, 2009. The company offered attending shareholders coffee, water, untoasted bagels with cream cheese, and assorted pastries. There was no prepared informal presentation.

CEO and Chairman Rajeev Madhavan handled most of the meeting. CFO Peter Teshima also answered several questions. Both CEO Madhavan and CFO Teshima responded to my questions with energy and confidence. I asked several tough questions, and I received good answers. Some quick points:

1. Some of the information provided in the 10K is now outdated. Although Magma’s 10K states, “There is substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern,” (page 11) Magma recently secured financing and will be able to satisfy its May 2010 bond obligations. According to statements made at the meeting, management waived the original 70% voting requirement (page 59). About 54% of the 2010 bondholders participated in the 2010 note exchange offer. This new development allows Magma to avoid distributing all of its cash to the May 2010 creditors.

2. Magma derives a significant percentage of its revenue from outside North America. See 10K, page 24: “we generated 41% of our total revenue from sales outside North America.” Consequently, Magma’s future revenues may not entirely depend on the American consumer.

3. Magma may have patent infringement issues. See 10K, page 27: We believe the patent portfolios of our competitors are far larger than ours, and this may increase the risk that they may sue us for patent infringement...” (To be fair, many tech companies face the possibility of patent infringement litigation.)

4. Other bloggers have said they expect Cadence (CDNS) to buy out or merge with Magma; however, CEO Madhavan seemed mildly upset that his company wasn’t getting the same respect as Cadence and was somewhat dismissive of Cadence’s financial position. In contrast, he had high praise for Synopsys, Inc. (SNPS).

According to a Magma company employee, CEO Madhavan seems to admire Synopsys’ financial profile due to its 90/10 revenue model, where 90 percent of revenue during a given quarter stems from backlog and only 10 percent from same-period deals. On the other hand, according to the same internal Magma source, Cadence and Mentor Graphics (MENT) have not yet achieved this preferred 90/10 revenue model (Magma points out that it achieved this 90/10 ratio two quarters ago). To be clear, CEO Madhavan did not express an opinion of a possible or a preferred merger or acquisition scenario.

I asked CEO Madhavan my usual question: “What is your competitive advantage in the marketplace?” CEO Madhavan answered that Magma software offered a “value proposition.” Using Magma’s software, semiconductor companies could save one million dollars in the process of designing a single chip. My understanding is that Magma’s software streamlines various aspects of chip design, which allows semiconductor companies, especially analog chip companies like Maxim (MXIM) and Linear Tech (LLTC), to use fewer engineers. Obviously, fewer engineers means less overhead for a semiconductor company, and less overhead means more financial flexibility. That’s the short version of Magma’s purported advantage. The following is the long version, based on my conversation with an outside engineer:

Designing chips is expensive because designs usually go through several modifications before they actually work. Engineers first design a circuit on a computer (called schematics). Then, they run modeling/simulations to make sure the circuit runs properly on the computer. After computer testing, the engineers transfer their design from the software/abstract to a physical layout for fabrication. The final step is sending the layout to the fab to make the actual chip. However, even after the manufacturer/fab creates the chip, work is not done. Engineers still have to test the chip in their lab in real-life scenarios. Sometimes the chip doesn’t work to the proper performance specs. This gap in expected performance requires the engineers to go back and re-work the design. The company must go through all the design stages again prior to sending a new, improved design to the fab. Unfortunately, every iteration (i.e., modifying the schematics) costs the company money. Depending on the skill level of their engineers, a company may have to fund several more iterations. Magma is saying that its software reduces the number of iterations and therefore saves chip design companies money and resources.

I questioned the CFO’s reliance on non-GAAP accounting numbers, citing pro forma accounting gimmicks used by Enron. CFO Teshima countered by saying that only “one or two acquisitions were the primary difference between GAAP and non-GAAP numbers.” CEO Madhavan left the meeting saying that Magma was the “new kid on the block,” implying that it wasn’t getting the respect it deserved.

I enjoyed the energy Magma’s executive team brought to the table. The CEO seemed unafraid of his competitors and prepared to compete. Magma’s current share price, which is under two dollars, reflects the company’s recent financial problems. Magma indicates that such financial problems are behind it, and it is confident about the future. In my opinion, Magma has several high risk factors, but also the potential for major upside. Personally, I am going to wait until Magma’s balance sheet improves before making any major purchases, but I will be following the company more closely.

Disclosures: I own an insignificant number of LAVA shares. A Magma employee also had an opportunity to review this post prior to publication and submitted some comments to me. I incorporated a few of his comments, mainly relating to the 90/10 revenue model and paragraph 1, which starts, "Some of the information provided..."

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