Vitesse Semiconductor seeks to profit from Internet-connected devices

Vitesse Semiconductor is hoping that a bet it placed a few years back will put it firmly in the black

Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. certainly has a list of well-heeled customers: Cisco Systems, Ericsson, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi and IBM, to name a few.

But what the Camarillo company needs most is a profit. It's hoping that a bet it placed a few years back will put it firmly in the black.

Vitesse Semiconductor designs, develops and sells a broad portfolio of high-performance semiconductors and application software designed to connect equipment.

It's hoping to make its mark as Ethernet products increase their reach into the so-called Internet of Things, which is the inclusion of electronics and software in devices not usually considered computerized. The products connect those things — thermostats, heart monitor implants, auto sensors — to computer systems.

The gamble was that Ethernet technology would be the platform of choice for connecting devices in increasingly complex industrial and automotive applications, said Chief Executive Christopher R. Gardner, 54.

"We saw that transition coming and invested in Ethernet technology in front of it," Gardner said. "Now we're doing further adaptations of Ethernet to work in automobiles as they evolve from merely mechanical to more electronic and even autonomous vehicles."

The company was founded in 1984 as Vitesse Electronics Corp., changing its name in 1987. It went public in 1991.

At the start of 2000, Vitesse was on a roll. Networking giants such as Cisco Systems Inc. and Lucent Technologies, now Alcatel-Lucent, were eagerly buying its microchips to help propel data over the Internet.

Then came the dot-com bust of 2001. Sales shriveled and the stock slumped to less than $10 a share from more than $100.

By 2002, the company branched into chips used for data storage, local area networks and other applications.

More bad news followed. In 2006, Vitesse was identified as one of dozens of tech companies where executives were suspected of manipulating stock options to benefit key employees by illegally back-dating grants of stock options.

Vitesse's board of directors cleaned house, firing its chief executive, chief financial officer and an executive vice president after an internal investigation of the company's accounting and stock-option grant practices.

The latest

This month, Vitesse unveiled additions to its high speed Ethernet offerings that enable the highest levels of encryption to protect critical enterprise, cloud computing and mobile network infrastructures.

Also in February, Vitesse released fiscal year 2015 first-quarter results that showed revenue of $24.8 million, down from $27 million a year earlier. The company's net loss narrowed slightly to $5 million, compared with $5.4 million a year earlier.

In January, the company said it had developed a new high-speed data transmission product for servers, enterprise storage and cloud computing.

Accomplishments

Vitesse has survived sudden changes in technology, core changes in its product offerings, tech industry downturns and internal turmoil.

In the 1990s, it primarily made gallium arsenide integrated circuits, which were used in high-performance telecommunications, data and automated test equipment systems. It has come a long way since, picking up on new business it sees.

One example of how the company is taking advantage of new opportunities is at check-out counters in stores, said analyst David N. Williams at Ascendiant Capital Markets.

Vitesse designed an improved system at the point of sale, Williams said, so that when a consumer swipes a credit card at checkout, the new product authenticates the information, better protects personal information and completes the transaction faster.

"We have been in the business 30 years, doing different things," Gardner said. "There's probably not a phone call or an email anywhere that doesn't go across a piece of Vitesse somewhere in the network."

Challenges

Over the last five years, the company shifted its focus to high-speed Ethernet-based technology and away from an older line of semiconductor products.

"Our biggest challenge is that we have been going through another transition," Gardner said about the shift.

"It's all about timing," he said. "You need the right products at the right time. Companies need to evolve and adapt. We have been doing that over the last five years."

Analysts

The mood on Wall Street seems to be that Vitesse has got it right and that signs of this could begin to show up in the company's bottom line as early as this year.

Five analysts regularly follow Vitesse Semiconductor and they are all bullish on the stock.

Four suggest investors buy the stock. The fifth rates it as outperform, meaning that he expects Vitesse to outpace the overall stock market.

"We remain confident in Vitesse's new product revenue growth and design," said N. Quinn Bolton, managing director of equity research at Needham & Co.

Benchmark Co. analyst Gary Mobley said in a recent note to investors that Vitesse's "transformational process of migrating design wins, product development and revenue toward Ethernet ... is coming to fruition."

ronald.white@latimes.com

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