Will the gloom ever lift for Nokia? Not yet, at least — in fact, the storm clouds are looking distinctly ominous.
In its latest quarterly results, the Finnish handset maker said things were “mixed” in the face of “greater than expected competitive challenges”, as it posted a loss of €1.3 billion ($ 1.8 billion).
The problem stems in large part from dramatic falls in mobile sales. Despite the recent launch of the lower-priced Lumia 900, net sales for the first quarter were €7.4 billion — down 29 percent on the same period last year — and Nokia witnessed from top to bottom. There was a 52 percent drop in smartphone sales revenue on the same time last year, and a 32 percent reduction in revenue from featurephones.
Chief executive Stephen Elop tried to mitigate the damage in a statement. Much of the losses relate to the restructuring of Nokia Siemens Networks, the company’s infrastructure arm — but the lack of momentum was something he could only hint at:
“We are navigating through a significant company transition in an industry environment that continues to evolve and shift quickly. Over the last year we have made progress on our new strategy, but we have faced greater than expected competitive challenges.
We have launched four Lumia devices ahead of schedule to encouraging awards and popular acclaim. The actual sales results have been mixed. We exceeded expectations in markets including the United States, but establishing momentum in certain markets including the UK has been more challenging.
We have a clear sense of urgency to move our strategy forward even faster …We are confident in our strategy and focused on responding urgently in the short term and creating value for our shareholders in the long term.”
The bad news had already been telegraphed last week, when the company signaled that things were proving tougher than expected by issuing a press release saying it had sold only 2 million smartphones.
But once that news was out, a pile-up started, led by ratings agency Moody’s deciding to relegate Nokia stock down to just one level above junk.
So what can Elop do?
The trouble is, there’s nothing really new to the company’s plight. Nokia is the victim of an intense crush of competition from both sides of its mobile business — Apple and Android at the lower-volume, higher-profit smartphone level, and rivals like ZTE at the high-volume, lower-profit end. It’s got to win back mindshare at one end, after years of inaction handed the baton to its rivals, while propping itself up at the other. That’s a tough set of priorities to juggle, even before you start thinking about software and services.
But each quarter the pressure ratchets up a little more and the urgency becomes even greater. Just look at the past two years, where Nokia’s share price has dropped by around 75 percent.
The market says Nokia’s got to get its turnaround going faster, smarter, bigger — but whatever Elop does, it doesn’t seem to have the velocity or gravity to stop that rot. And with losses mounting, the company’s cash reserves — it has currently nearly €5 billion in the bank — really need protecting.
Will shareholders be calling the strategy and execution into doubt? Will it make a difference?
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