We're received an SOS from webOS. The Pixi is dust. Pre sales have gone postal.
Palm's (Nasdaq: PALM ) implosion last week was brutal. There's no way to sugarcoat the smartphone pioneer's bleak guidance, which calls for less than $150 million in revenue for the current quarter. This would be less than half of what Wall Street was expecting, and an even bigger dip sequentially.
This kind of negativity often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now that a couple of analysts are following fellow Fool Rich Smith's lead in declaring an apocalyptic $0 price target, sales of the multitasking handsets will dry up even faster. It just doesn't feel right to buy into a two-year smartphone contract when the manufacturer may not have the financial wherewithal to meet you at the other end.
I was right in trashing Palm as an investment 10 months ago, but I won't join the vultures in Nil City. A beaten-down Palm certainly isn't the attractive buyout candidate it could have been a year ago, but the company's hardly worthless -- even if we consider its negative book value of nearly $300 million.
Let's go over a few potential saviors.
- Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) : Mr. Softy isn't as desperate as it was in the past. Hope springs eternal for its Windows Phone 7 Series platform. It also passed on buying the more logical Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) when it had the chance. However, a humbler Microsoft should realize that it can no longer march into battle, unfashionably late, with just one sword. If the price is right, this is one of the few areas where Microsoft can be a material acquirer without ruffling regulatory feathers.
- Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) : The world's largest smartphone player globally is an afterthought domestically. Rescuing the Palm brand before it becomes irreparably ruined would help it win style points and approach the stateside market from a different angle than its Symbian-flavored strategy. The Finnish giant's acquisition would also help ease concerns of obsolescence from current Palm device owners.
- Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) : If Microsoft is unfashionably late, at least it sent an RSVP. Dell is trying to crash the crowded party. Rumors of a Dell acquisition made the rounds last year, when it made tactical sense. Now it just makes financial sense to throw out a lifeboat and nab a long shot of a lottery ticket.
- Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) : HP makes less sense as a suitor than Dell, but both computer manufacturers with portable-computing goals can benefit from a proprietary platform such as webOS.
I'm almost tempted to throw Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) into the mix -- especially as a strategic move to shut out nemesis Microsoft -- but it's gaining too much ground with Android. It would confuse the marketplace at a time when it is establishing itself nicely as the multiheaded alternative to iPhone and BlackBerry.
However, if the price is right -- and the rampant pessimism is making it exactly that -- I don't see this reverse auction going anywhere close to zero.
Do you think Palm will be acquired, turn around organically, or file for bankruptcy protection? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.