Is Apple Set to Acquire GTAT?

Since GT Advanced Technology (GTAT) abruptly filed for bankruptcy protection this Monday, many industry insiders have speculated how this will impact Apple. While most Wall Street financial analysts believe Apple could walk away with GTAT’s sapphire equipment and patents at a bargain price, one report believes Apple could acquire GTAT.

GTAT filed for bankruptcy protection under chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Hampshire this Monday. The company’s stocks have plummeted 92.76 percent since the announcement to US $0.8. The U.S.-MOCVD bankruptcy announcement also led to Taiwanese sapphire manufacturers Crystalwise Technology, Tera Xtel, Procystal, Crystal-Applied, ACME Electronics and Rigidtech’s stock value decline.

An earlier Wall Street Journal report published this week noted GTAT’s failure to meet agreed terms under its supplier contract was the main reason that Apple withheld the final tranche of the payment that totaled US $139 million. In addition, the company’s finances were further strained by compensations it had to pay to sapphire manufacturer Tera Xtel for delivering faulty sapphire furnaces, said Roger Chu, the research director of LEDinside.

Apple was surprised by the filing and unaware the sapphire supplier was on the brink of bankruptcy, it had been aiming to keep GTAT afloat, according to a Wall Street Journal report. “We are focused on preserving jobs in Arizona following GT’s surprising decision and we will continue to work with state and local officials as we consider our next steps,” said Apple. The market has been following Apple’s developments closely.

Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Chris Caso believes Apple could take GTAT’s furnaces and take back the factory it leased, or buy more sapphire intellectual property from the company, and become its own glass manufacturer, according to a report by The Mac Observer. A Forbes contributor also shared a similar view. Based on the initial K-8 filings, GTAT had granted Apple certain sapphire IP rights. Additionally, from the November 10Q Apple would be able to acquire control and possession of the Advanced Sapphire Furnace (ASF) systems.

Seeking Alpha made even bolder predictions, with one report believing acquisition of the bankrupt GTAT would be the more logical choice. Since GTAT filed for bankruptcy protection under chapter 11 it would mean old investors would be wiped clean, and a new lender would have priority in the reorganization. This would put Apple at risk of ever fully retaining the $ 400 million loans to GTAT for the sapphire manufacturing plant in Arizona, U.S.

The release date of the Apple Watch (which will be using sapphire displays) would be affected if GTAT went to another lender. Apple would not want to strain backup sapphire suppliers in the case GTAT has trouble finding new financing and becomes unable to operate the existing sapphire plants. Finally, Apple could risk losing the rights to all of GTAT’s intellectual property related to sapphire if it loses these rights to a new lender, who secures new loans against GTAT’s assets. The report reasoned, Apple would want to protect itself from third-party selling sapphire patent related trade secrets to competitors in a bankruptcy settlement.

Whether Apple decides to absorb GTAT or walk away with a majority of the company’s assets, it can be certain that Apple’s priority will be securing sapphire patents and assets it has already invested in GTAT.

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