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Network equipment builder and installer Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU ) is a mess. When the company titles its earnings release something like, "Back to revenue growth and positive net profit," you know there's a lack of confidence at the headquarters. The truth is, there really wasn't much of a choice because the company just can't put a truly positive spin on this report.
The company reported $5.8 billion of sales, a 10.5% year-over-year jump. The $0.04 of adjusted net profit per share and depositary receipt looks like a step in the right direction, but was at least partly a result of one-time accounting tricks: Back out the benefits of adjustments to Alcatel's retirement plans, and you lose another penny. International rival Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO ) wouldn't be caught dead skimming this close to the breakeven point, never mind dipping below it for years at a time. LM Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERIC ) consistently reports positive earnings and cash flows. Nokia Siemens Networks, the networking joint venture between Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) and Siemens (NYSE: SI ) , runs on a thin margins stew, too -- but at least has the decency to stay slightly profitable.
It is actually hard to find a major networking company that sports the peculiar mix of weak margins and slow sales that Alcatel-Lucent does, and one halfway decent quarter does not erase years of trend-building. Every telecom provider on the face of the Earth seems to be installing next-generation networks these days, and Alcatel should be rolling in dough as a result. But it isn't.
The company is sitting on a precarious balance of cash and debt and keeps burning money quarter by quarter. With an Altman Z score that previously stood at 0.04 before these tepid earnings, Alcatel-Lucent continues to face the looming threat of bankruptcy if it can't figure out a way to change direction in the coming quarters and years. The stock may look cheap at first glance, but you get what you pay for. This looks like the next Nortel implosion waiting to happen.
"Operational excellence and reduced organizational complexity remain our key focus," CEO Ben Verwaayen said. That's more of a beautiful dream than a realistic description of the company at this point.
Do you see any reason at all to own this stock? Please enlighten me in the comments below.