I count three downgrades today, in all, from Goldman Sachs, Sanford Bernstein, and Canaccord Genuity.
As I wrote following that announcement, the bears warned that the worst may not yet be over in terms of the deterioration of the existing business, and that the partnership to develop phones with Microsoft (MSFT) still carries risk.
That’s generally the viewpoint of today’s actions as well. I’ll get to the Goldman and Bernstein notes in a moment.
Mike Walkley at Canaccord Genuity cut his rating to Hold from Buy and cut his price target to $8 from $11, writing that he is “increasingly concerned about sales for Nokia’s Symbian devices during the transition period.”
The vaunted Nokia distribution channel has in fact broken down in China, the company indicated, and the head of operations there has been let go. “Nokia indicated it had mismanaged inventory levels in China and has fired and replaced the head of its China distribution operations.”
Walkley cut his 2011 EPS estimate to $20 cents from 54 cents, and cut his 2012 EPS estimate to 28 cents from 83 cents, but he still thinks Nokia’s phones based on Windows Phone could become a viable third platform, after Apple’s (AAPL) iOS, and Google’s (GOOG) Android, and he models a profit of 83 cents in 2013, on a rebound in sales to €44.9 billion from a likely €39.7 billion in 2012.
Bernstein’s Pierre Ferragu, meanwhile, cut his rating from Market Perform to Underperform, with a $4 target price on the American Depository Receipts, down from $7.33 previously. His target price on Nokia’s ordinary shares goes to €3 from a prior €5.50.
Ferragu notes that he had upgraded the stock on March 11th, when there were 13 Sell ratings on the Street, thinking that investor expectations were low enough to offer some upside on the shares. But yesterday’s cut means the “worst case” scenario that he had imagined is, in fact, crystalizing.
The introduction of the Windows-based phone “will be challenging,” he thinks, “given the likely loss of traction and visibility of the Nokia brand, as well as the speed at which the opportunity for a third ecosystem to emerge is vanishing.”
In fact, Ferragu thinks something is happening to Nokia akin to what befell Motorola back when it lost its grip on the number two spot in the phone market:
This new guidance is to us a strong indication that the company is falling into the Motorola-type scenario we have been worried about for some time. We expect Nokia’s smartphone and mobile phone shipments to shrink sequentially in the second quarter, leading to market shares of 19% and 30%, down 19 pts and 5 pts year on year. This precipitous acceleration of market share loss has two major implications. Nokia is now losing visibility in Europe. The brand lost its first spot to Samsung in the first quarter and our recent store visits indicated a dramatic loss of visibility for Nokia: In some stores, we couldn’t see Nokia phones on display above knee level. Nokia’s emerging market share is not well protected. It now seems clear that Nokia’s more stable position in emerging markets and especially in China was artificial. Management advocated that major inventory build-ups artificially increased shipment volumes in the last quarters. We now believe Nokia will face pressure in these markets similar to what it has been experiencing in Europe.
Goldman’s Tim Boddy cut his rating to Neutral from Buy, writing that the company’s “rapid market share loss threatens Nokia’s distribution advantage.”
Boddy writes that his prior convocation that the stock offered upside if new Windows phones succeeded failed to anticipate how quickly the business would deteriorate.
“With Nokia unlikely to have a full Microsoft- based smartphone line-up across all price points before mid-2012, risks to revenues remain material, threatening Nokia’s ability to retain its distribution relationships and retail footprint when new products arrive.”
Boddy cut his EPs estimate for this year to 17 cents from a prior 53, and cut 2012′s estimate to a loss of 1 penny, versus a prior estimate of 70 cents per share.
And like Ferragu, he draws parallels with the old Motorola’s troubles when it lost its position in phones:
We believe the parallels between Nokia’s situation and Motorola in 2007/8 are becoming more similar. We still argue that Motorola’s position was more precarious, given its dependence on a slim number of high end ‘hit’ models for its profitability, a structurally unprofitable EM business and a weaker balance sheet, but a clear lesson from Motorola’s challenges (or, for that matter, Sony Ericsson’s) is that it is both difficult and time-consuming to rebuild distributor, retail and supplier confidence in your brand once market share has collapsed.
Things that were an advantage for Nokia, moreover, such as in-house manufacturing, may come to be a liability, Boddy believes. For one thing, of the company’s 59,000 employees in its handset operations, about half are based in developed markets. That might make it tough for the company to restructure if it wanted to shift resources to emerging markets where the upside is greater.
Article courtesy of Tech Trader Daily