Recap: Arm has had a wild ride in the last few years, with its fate having been all but determined several times. At one point, it was going to be owned by Nvidia, but that merger fell through. Then it was going to be offered on the NYSE, but the head of the China division blocked it — twice. The board tried to fire him, but he refused their vote — twice. Now he's rechallenging the IPO. And if that's not enough of a rollercoaster, Qualcomm and a group of investors have formed a consortium interested in keeping the company independent through acquisition.
Qualcomm is reportedly interested in a bid to acquire a major stake in Arm. It has entered into a consortium with several other unnamed companies to make the offer to Arm's current parent company SoftBank. The consortium's stated goal is to ensure the semiconductor company remains independent.
Nvidia was set to close an acquisition in September 2020, but under intense regulator scrutiny, Nvidia backed out of the $40 billion deal. With the buyout nixed, SoftBank planned a $60 billion Arm IPO to take place sometime before the end of its 2023 fiscal year.
However, Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon warns that an IPO would be just as bad for the industry as the Nvidia deal.
"We're an interested party in investing," Amon told the Financial Times. "It's a very important asset, and it's an asset which is going to be essential to the development of our industry."
The transition to Arm-based @Windows PCs wouldn't be possible without support from our incredible partners. With @Microsoft, @Acer, @ASUS, @HP, and @Lenovo, we continue to deliver the power and efficiency PC users deserve on @Snapdragon compute platform-powered devices. #CES2022 pic.twitter.com/5cuLu42FRp— Qualcomm (@Qualcomm) January 4, 2022
Qualcomm relies heavily on the Arm architecture to provide SoCs to multiple OEMs. If a single corporation bought enough controlling stock or purchased the company outright, it could negatively affect it and other firms that build Arm-based products. Amon said that the company needs several companies with vested interests to be involved to ensure it remains independent and does not just answer to a single controlling entity, but fell short of naming names.
"You'd need to have many companies participating, so they have a net effect that Arm is independent," the Qualcomm boss said.
Qualcomm and its consortium have not yet entered into talks with SoftBank. Amon said he wants to wait until the ongoing Arm China issues are resolved. These problems primarily lie on the shoulders of the China division's head, who the board has tried to oust several times.
Although SoftBank announced a potential initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange almost two years ago, even those plans remain in question. In February 2022, the head of Arm China, Allen Wu, entered a legal challenge to the IPO. It is the third time Wu has tried blocking the move since 2020.
The IPO has also run into trouble with valuation because although China's board voted unanimously to remove Wu, he holds the company's official seal and remains its legal representative. Essentially, he must sign off on any board decisions, so he has ignored votes to fire him. Wu also controls a key investment firm that gives him power over most of Arm China's shareholders.