On February 10, 2011, Nokia (NOK) and Microsoft (MSFT) released a statement announcing plans for a partnership to develop a global ecosystem. The agreement specified that Nokia would join ranks with the Windows operating system as an original equipment maker. In broad terms, Microsoft would put up the marketing cash and software, in exchange for near exclusive access to Nokia hardware as an ecosystem provider. Before the ink dried on this partnership, however, Microsoft had already closed deals with Huawei Technologies and Samsung (OTC:SSNHY) to also manufacture Windows phones. Yes, Microsoft is notorious for throwing its own partners beneath the bus and forcing original equipment makers to compete against each other until they implode financially. Nokia is following in the loss leading footsteps of both Dell (DELL) and Hewlett Packard (HPQ). Microsoft is the cancer.
The PC is a Cheap Commodity
Apple's (AAPL) timeless "Get a Mac" advertising campaign still defines the consumer electronics market. In these series of commercials, airing between 2006 and 2009, Apple personifies itself through the MacIntosh computer as a chic, yet eager to please hipster. Alternatively, the Microsoft Windows PC machine is a bespectacled office park relic wearing a tweed suit. In terms of smartphone sales, Apple Corporation still remains in growth mode. Meanwhile, Microsoft is effectively a cash flow rich utility that monopolizes its niche market and kicks out dividends to shareholders. Microsoft's utilitarian approach to doing business, however, destroys long-term shareholder value for original equipment makers, such as Nokia, that are attached to the Windows ecosystem.
On July 23, 2013, Apple filed its third quarterly report for fiscal 2013 with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Apple Q3 2013 period ended on June 29, 2013. For Q3 2013, Apple sold 31 million iPhone units, which marks a 20% improvement above the year-over-year quarter. The iPhone has emerged as the centerpiece of an Apple iOS ecosystem that still leverages the halo effect of historical iPod, iTunes, and iMac launches and upgrades. The prior week, on July 18, 2013, Microsoft released its fourth quarter and full-year results for fiscal 2013 ended June 30, 2013. For Q4 2013, Microsoft posted $4.97 billion of earnings - from $19.9 billion in revenue. These results do include $900 million in Surface tablet inventory write-downs alongside a $2 billion year-over-year decline in Windows Division sales. Wall Street obviously was not impressed, as traders dumped Microsoft stock to $31.40 for a 13% loss in the immediate hours following this earnings release.
The Smartphone Market
Recent earnings reports out of both Nokia and Microsoft alongside the staggering long-term collapse of Hewlett Packard and Dell business models support the thesis that Windows is a cancer. Windows software licensing generates consistent heaps of cash for Microsoft, at the expense of real growth and the survival of associated original equipment makers. Microsoft Windows has already lost the war to Google (GOOG) Android and Apple iOS. To avoid bankruptcy, Nokia must at least entertain ideas of either joining ranks with Android, or building out its own integrated ecosystem independent of Microsoft. At minimum, tacit gamesmanship might compel the button-down culture at Microsoft to take calculated risks and attempt to develop revolutionary product, such as Google Glass and Apple iWatch. Microsoft is no alpha. Microsoft is a beta follower. Beta behavior out of Redmond is systematically destroying the entire Windows tribe.
On June 28, 2013, research firm comScore released its report presenting May 2013 smartphone subscriber market share. The report averages data for the three-month period spanning between February 2013 and May 2013. A quick glance of this comScore report will verify the presence of a dominant Google Android and Apple iOS duopoly. In total, this Android-iOS duopoly powers roughly 92% of the U.S. smartphone subscriber market. On the handset side of the ledger, Apple and Samsung are a respective one and two as original equipment makers according to market share. The Google Android - Apple iOS is actually gaining in strength - with 1-2% expansions in market share in both operating systems and handsets above the prior quarter.
At the bottom of the heap, BlackBerry (BBRY), Microsoft Windows, and the now defunct Nokia Symbian operating systems are fighting desperately simply to stay relevant. In this game of musical chairs, Google and Android already occupy two out of the three remaining chairs in the room. Recent efforts to build out a viable third wheel alternative beyond the Google Android - Apple iOS duopoly have failed. Numerous reviews touting the Nokia Lumia 1020 phone are also fundamentally flawed. Nokia's latest premium Windows phone is notable for the picture clarity of its 41-megapixel camera. Still, the phone will remain an effective outpost along this Windows Highway to nowhere. Both Nokia and Microsoft shareholders should consider selling stock immediately.
The Bottom Line
On June 19, 2013, The Wall Street Journal reported that "people familiar with the matter" claimed that Microsoft held "advanced talks" to acquire Nokia. Talks allegedly broke down, after Microsoft refused to pay a significant premium above Nokia's current $15 billion market capitalization. Cynics, of course, may speculate that every recent event is merely part of a calculated plan to deliver Nokia to Microsoft. Stephen Elop, Nokia CEO, is a former Microsoft man. In any event, the Microsoft - Nokia alliance is failing shareholders. Anticipation of a Microsoft led merger and acquisition deal has precluded Nokia from fully exploring its growth options, especially in regards to taking on Android.
On July 18, 2013, Nokia released a financial report for its second quarter and semi-annual period ended June 30, 2013. For Q2 2013, Nokia reported losses of $370 million. Nokia continues to lose money, despite the fact that Microsoft transfers the company $250 million in up-front "platform support payments" each quarter. Nokia now owes a debt of $650 million to Microsoft. At this junction in time, Microsoft could do nothing and return to the bargaining table as a top creditor to snap up whatever remains of a bankrupt Nokia. The Nokia balance sheet will continue to shrink, as goodwill, property, plant, and equipment, and other intangible assets depreciate towards zero. In theory, assets that are not being leveraged for profits must depreciate.
Nokia closed out its Q2 2013 books with $35 billion in assets above $24 billion in liabilities on the balance sheet. Nokia now operates with $11 billion, or $2.96 per share, worth of intangible assets. On the asset side of the ledger, Nokia carries $6.4 billion in goodwill, $1.8 billion in property, plant, and equipment, and $500 million in other intangible assets on the books. In reality, Nokia may be worth less than $1 per share, after writing off goodwill and intangible assets from the balance sheet.
Nokia is now a strong sell. Microsoft is the ball and chain weighing down Nokia.