A new report from research firm Jefferies suggests that Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) move to terminate its licensing deal with Imagination Technologies Group plc (IGNMF) might be part of a strategic play by the Cupertino, California-based company to buy Imagination.

"A Byzantine analysis would have Apple intent on taking over Imagination for PowerVR, and using the warning of cessation to depress its prey's valuation (and emphasize its dependence on Apple) before pouncing. A version of this would see Apple standing by to acquire IMG's IP (intellectual property) in any future crisis – perhaps at least providing a safety net to value," Jefferies analyst Ken Rumph wrote in a note. (See also: Apple Imagines Away Chip Supplier's Future.)

Apple, which owns more than 8 percent of Imagination, has previously tried to acquire the U.K.-based semiconductor equipment company, but talks broke down. Apple licenses Imagination's PowerVR series GPU design for its A-series processors, which are used in its devices ranging from iPads to iPhones. However, Imagination's profits have suffered because of a slowdown in iPhone sales. (See also: Apple to Suffer iPhone Decline in First Half of 2017: Top Analyst.)

After Apple's acquisition talks last year, Chinese investment fund Tsinghua Unigroup swooped in to buy a 3 percent stake in Imagination. The Chinese state-owned fund's acquisition is supposedly part of a longer-term play to boost its intellectual property assets. Back then, analysts had speculated that the stake was a precursor to M&A and upgraded Imagination's shares. "We presume Apple (owns 8 percent) would not let Imagination's technology go to China. This may ignite a sale process," an analyst at investment bank Liberum Capital wrote. (See also: These Stocks Will Win in Apple iPhone 8 Supercycle.)

Imagination Technologies earned $6.4 million from licensing its PowerVR designs last year. Its designs are mostly used in premium phones (such as Apple's iPhone) and information and entertainment systems. Growth of the self-driving car industry has also carved out a new market for Imagination Technologies. Apple is said to be developing its own chip division within the company and has poached several key executives from Imagination Technologies to staff the division.

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