A Falling Knife?

September 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business, Finances, Technology 

It is widely known that two turkeys do not make an eagle.  I’m not sure what made me think of this, I’m not even a golfer. But it seems to me that Microsoft just handed a bunch of their cash to Nokia for what seems to be a desperate move.  Let me explain.

Nokia operates 3 businesses.  For the first half of 2013 none actually made any money.

  • Nokia-Siemens network (~ 50% of their revenue) which is 11% below last year’s revenue and operating at roughly break even.
  • HERE, formerly Navteq, which has imploded to EUR 233M in revenue and losing EUR 100M per quarter. (amazing what an $8B investment can turn into in a few years)
  • Devices and Service, which is what Microsoft made an offer to buy, is responsible for roughly the other 50% revenue, which for the first half of 2013 was EUR 5.6B vs 8.3B for the same period last year.

This business lost “only” EUR 75M for the first half vs EUR691M for the first half of 2012.  So it is improving.  What makes up this revenue, you may ask?  That’s where it gets interesting.  EUR 2.3B is made by the sell of 13.5 mostly Windows based smartphones.  EUR 2.9B from 109.5 million of what they call  “Mobile Phones”, which do not run Microsoft’s operating system.  The rest is services, whatever that really means.  So, a little over a half of their revenue is not only non-Microsoft products, but at an ASP (average sales price) of EUR 26 (yeah, not missing any zeroes, it is twenty six euro per phone).  This is just a small, very, very small fraction of what an Office or Windows license go for these days.  The other 40% is Smartphones, which are mostly Windows based.  Those sold at an alarming EUR 175 ( $232 US) average price.  Compared that to above $600 for an iPhone and above $500 for a Samsung Galaxy makes them one of the lowest in the industry.    They are actually great devices, but they have to almost give them away for the carriers to take them to their customers.  No wonder the division is not making any money!

So, Microsoft handed $7.2B (which is actually less than 10% of their cash at the close of last quarter) for a shrinking business with the lowest sales prices in the industry, 60% of which they have no interest in.  Not surprisingly, Microsoft investors did not like the idea and drove the stock down around 10% in the first couple of days.  One has to imagine that Microsoft thought this was their only chance to get into the fast growing mobility business.  On the other hand, Nokia investors loved the deal.  The stock shot up 50% in the first couple of days!

So what can the deal do for Microsoft?

In their fiscal year 2013, which ended June 30th, Microsoft ran 5 business that produced $77.6B in  revenue with mind-blowing operating earnings of $33.4B.  Every one of these businesses grew from a year ago, except for Windows, which was roughly flat.

  • Business Division, whose main product is the ubiquitous “productivity” suite Office, was 31% of their revenue and 48% of their OE (operating earnings)
  • Servers and Tools, which sells servers, had around 24% of the total revenue and 24% of their O.E.
  • Windows, which was 25% of revenue and 28% of O.E.
  • Online services, which manages Bing among other online offerings, was 4% of revenue and operated at a loss that represented -3% of O.E.
  • Entertainment, which sells Xbox, Surface PCs, and Windows phone was 13% of revenue and produced a modest 2.5% of Microsoft’s yearly earnings.

The latter is where they will probably merge Nokia’s business if the acquisition goes through and probably spin Xbox out as it has been rumored for a long time.  Assuming the revenue stays flat (a big if), it will represent around 20% of Microsoft’s total revenue, but no earnings to speak of.  Their only hope is to drive ASP (average sell prices) up.  And, my fellow reader (singular), there is only one way to do that:  with unique products that customers value their differentiation.

Consumers don’t particularly like Microsoft, but there is a group that has had a long lived love affair with them: I.T.  Most corporate I.T organizations in the world prefer Microsoft to any other operating system.  They trust them and have been supporting them for years.  Microsoft’s only hope is to leverage that.  They will have to relentlessly push for Windows based phones to become the Blackberry of Christmas past.  Focus on professional users by making email, calendar, office, and corporate apps a seamless experience.

That’s all they’ve got.

However, the world of mobility is that of 99 cents apps and free OS.  Clearly not where you want to take a $43.5B business that throws $24.7B in earnings per year selling operating systems and corporate applications. That is a boat load of 99 cent apps.  Apple and Samsung have shown that making significant amounts of money with differentiated hardware in the mobility industry is possible.

The question is, is there room for a third one …

Enjoy.

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