Elop running out of time to fix Nokia

By Tarmo Virki and Harro Ten Wolde on Sep 20, 2012 7:08 AM
Filed under Mobility

Was Windows the right choice?

Stephen Elop only has a few months to show he can turn Nokia around if he is to survive, but the company's new smartphone is unlikely to woo customers back from Apple and Samsung.

Investors and analysts say the chief executive has until early 2013 to prove he made the right choice by partnering with Microsoft Windows or his future at the loss-making company will be called into question.

Nokia still sells almost a million phones a day but analysts are pessimistic on the outlook, predicting Lumia 920 will lose out to Apple's iPhone 5 at the top end of the smartphone market in the 2012 holiday season.

"Elop has not been able to attract customers and that is what counts. You can say that he has not had enough time, but he has been there for two years. Time is up," said Magnus Rehle, senior partner in Greenwich Consulting, which advises large telecoms companies.

The moment of truth for Elop's strategy shift came in early September when Nokia launched its first models using new Windows Phone 8 software.

Elop promised to wow with new models, but the Lumia 920 turned out to be an upgrade of a previous model, and Nokia shares fell sharply during the launch event, losing a quarter of their value in two sessions.

They have since recovered to trade at 2.20 ($A2.74), helped by the global stock market recovery but are sill below the pre-launch level.

A strong holiday season could help Elop survive but investors and analysts doubt this will happen.

"The Christmas season is a lost cause. For Nokia, if there is any chance, it will be Spring," said Juha Varis, who holds Nokia shares as part of the Danske Invest Finnish Equity Fund.

"The beginning of next year may be the final judgement. I think that maybe the end of the first quarter is the marking point."

Nokia was already having a difficult time when the Canadian took control of the former market leader in September 2010.

Its share of the smartphone segment had dropped to 33 percent from 39 percent two years earlier and some analysts say a bold approach was needed.

Elop shocked investors by dumping the company's own Symbian software and betting on unproven software from his former employer Microsoft in February 2011. He promised a two-year transition and a longer term operating profit margin of at least 10 percent.

"He has been making some brave decisions and courage is something this company has lacked for a long time before Elop joined," said Nordea analyst Sami Sarkamies.

"His starting point was really weak and it's hard to say someone else would have done a better job."

But he also said Elop has until the end of the first or second quarter of 2013 to show his strategy can work.

So far he has been unable to halt the decline. The share of the smartphone market had fallen to 6 percent in the second quarter of this year, according to research firm Canalys.

Nokia has reported operating losses of 3 billion in the last 18 months, closed sites around the world including the Finnish factory in Salo that was the hub of its 1990s success, cut tens of thousands of jobs and revamped top management.

Investors who held on to their shares have seen the value of their holdings shrinking by more than 70 percent since the Microsoft strategy was unveiled.

 
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