News / Economy

Microsoft Swallows Nokia's Handset Business for $7.2B

A Nokia Lumia 820 smartphone with Microsoft logos on the screen is shown in a photo illustration taken in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, Sep. 3, 2013.
A Nokia Lumia 820 smartphone with Microsoft logos on the screen is shown in a photo illustration taken in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, Sep. 3, 2013.
Reuters
Two years after hitching its fate to Microsoft's Windows Phone software, Nokia collapsed into the arms of the U.S. software giant on Tuesday, agreeing to sell its main handset business for 5.44 billion euros ($7.2 billion).

Nokia, once the world's dominant handset maker, has failed to close a yawning lead opened up by Apple and Samsung in the highly competitive market for smartphones and will now concentrate on its networking equipment unit, navigation business and technology patents.

Nokia's Canadian boss Stephen Elop, who ran Microsoft's business software division before jumping to Nokia in 2010, will return to the U.S. firm as head of its mobile devices business - a Trojan horse, according to disgruntled Finnish media.

He is being discussed as a possible replacement for Microsoft's retiring CEO Steve Ballmer, who is trying to remake the U.S. firm into a gadget and services company like Apple before he departs, though it has fallen short so far in its attempts to compete in mobile devices.

“It's very clear to me that rationally this is the right step going forward,” Elop told reporters, though he added he also felt “a great deal of sadness” over the outcome.

“I feel sadness because inevitably we are changing Nokia and what it stands for,” he said.

In three years under Elop, Nokia saw its market share collapse and its share price shrivel.

In 2011, after writing a memo that said Nokia lacked the in-house technology and needed to jump off a “burning platform”, Elop made the controversial decision to use Microsoft's Windows Phone for smartphones, rather than Nokia's own software or Google's ubiquitous Android operating system.

Nokia, which had 40 percent of the handset market in 2007, now has just 15 percent, and only 3 percent in smartphones.

Shares in Nokia surged 39 percent to 4.10 euros on Tuesday. While up from their decade-low of 1.33 euros hit last year, they are still only a fraction of their 2000 peak of 65 euros.

After today's gains the whole company is worth about 15 billion euros, a far cry from its glory days when it peaked at over 200 billion euros.

Tuesday's deal includes an agreement to license Nokia's patent portfolio for 10 years. Without it, Nokia's devices and services business would have been worth about 3.7 billion euros, the companies said.

Microsoft shares in Frankfurt were down about 5 percent.

Sold for 'peanuts'

While some investors have credited Elop for bringing urgency to Nokia, which has stepped up its pace of product development in recent months and is due to announce a “phablet”-type large-screen handset this month, his legacy will be a bitter one for Finland. The company, which began life as a paper mill and has sold an eclectic range from television sets to rubber boots in its 148-year history, was a national champion in its heyday, accounting for 16 percent of all exports.

Hired by former chairman Jorma Ollila, Elop was the first foreigner to lead it.

For many Finns, the fact that a former Microsoft executive had come to Nokia, bet the firm's future on an alliance with Microsoft, laid off about 40,000 worldwide and then delivered it into Microsoft's hands, was a galling snub to national pride.

“Jorma Ollila brought a Trojan horse to Nokia,” a column in widely read tabloid Ilta-Sanoma said.

“As a Finnish person, I cannot like this deal. It ends one chapter in this Nokia story,” said Juha Varis, Danske Capital's senior portfolio manager, whose fund owns Nokia shares. “On the other hand, it was maybe the last opportunity to sell it.”

Varis was one of many investors critical of Elop's decision to bet Nokia's future in smartphones on Microsoft's Windows Phone software, which was praised by tech reviewers but hasn't found the momentum to challenge the market leaders.

“So this is the outcome: the whole business for 5 billion euros. That's peanuts compared to its history,” he said.

Alexander Stubb, Finland's Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade, said on his Twitter account: “For a lot of us Finns, including myself, Nokia phones are part of what we grew up with. Many first reactions to the deal will be emotional.”

Nokia's new interim CEO Risto Siilasmaa painted a picture of just how grudgingly the call to sell had been arrived at, describing how the board had met almost 50 times after the approach by Microsoft around February.

Ballmer, at a news conference in the Finnish capital, sought to assuage fears the deal would hit jobs in the Nordic country and said Microsoft would build on the recent growth of Nokia's flagship Lumia smartphones.

Nokia said it expected around 32,000 people of its roughly 90,000 worldwide staff would transfer to Microsoft, including about 4,700 who will transfer in Finland.

Pivotal for Microsoft

It is also a pivotal moment for Microsoft, which still has huge revenues from its Windows computer operating system, Office suite of business software and the X-Box game console, but has failed so far to set up a profitable mobile device business.

Microsoft's own mobile gadget, the Surface tablet, has sold tepidly since it was launched last year.

“It's a bold step into the future - a win-win for employees, shareholders and consumers of both companies,” Ballmer said. “Bringing these great teams together will accelerate Microsoft's share and profits in phones and strengthen the overall opportunities for both Microsoft and our partners across our entire family of devices and services.”

The move leaves the Finnish company with Nokia Solutions and Networks, which competes with the likes of Ericsson and Huawei in telecoms equipment, as well as a navigation business and a broad portfolio of patents.

The Nokia deal thrusts Microsoft deeper into the hotly contested mobile phone market, despite some investors urging it to stick to its core strengths of business software and services.

Elop will return to Microsoft as its board ponders a successor to Ballmer, who will depart in the next 12 months.

Activist fund manager ValueAct Capital Management, which has been offered a board seat, is among those concerned with Ballmer's leadership and his attempts to plow headlong into the lower-margin, highly competitive mobile devices arena.

Others applauded Ballmer's aggressive gambit.

“Microsoft cannot walk away from smartphones, and the hope that other vendors will support Windows Phone is fading fast. So buying Nokia comes at the right time,” said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Gartner.

“In today's market it is clear that a vertical integration is the way forward for a company to succeed. How else could Microsoft achieve this?”

As part of Microsoft, Elop will head an expanded Devices unit. Julie Larson-Green, who in July was promoted to head a new Devices and Studios business in Ballmer's reorganization, will report to Elop when the deal is closed.

Fire sale

Analyst Tero Kuittinen at consultancy Alekstra said the sale price of Nokia's phone business, about a quarter of its sales last year, represented a “fire sale level”, though others were less clear about what a shrunken Nokia was worth.

The price agreed for the devices and services business gives it an enterprise value of about 0.33 times sales for a loss-making business, about half what Google paid for Motorola's handset business in 2012.

“What should be paid for a declining business, where market share has been constantly lost and profitability has been poor?” said Hannu Rauhala, analyst at Pohjola Bank. “It is difficult to say if it's cheap or expensive.”

Nokia is still the world's No. 2 mobile phone maker behind Samsung, but it is not in the top five in the more lucrative and faster-growing smartphone market.

Sales of Nokia's Lumia series have helped the market share of Windows Phones in the global smartphone market climb to 3.3 percent, according to consultancy Gartner, overtaking ailing BlackBerry Ltd for the first time this year. Still, Google Inc's Android and Apple's iOS system make up 90 percent of the market.

Nokia said in a statement it expected that, apart from Elop, senior executives Jo Harlow, Juha Putkiranta, Timo Toikkanen, and Chris Weber would transfer to Microsoft when the deal is concluded, probably in the first quarter of 2014.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.9247
JPY
USD
118.78
GBP
USD
0.6657
CAD
USD
1.2190
INR
USD
62.395

Rates may not be current.