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Not all mobile component suppliers are created equal. While playing the mobile revolution from the inside out is one of the more promising angles, it helps to be picky.
European semiconductor maker STMicroelectronics (NYSE: STM ) posted its fourth-quarter results last night, and there wasn't a lot to call home about. The company supplies components like the three-axis accelerometer and gyroscope found in Apple iPhones and popular Google Android phones, but its biggest customer is European neighbor Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) .
Net revenue in the fourth quarter fell by 24% to $2.2 billion, generating an $11 million net loss. The red ink at the bottom is a major drop-off relative to the $219 million profit that STMicro enjoyed last year. Gross margin also took a pretty major hit, falling from 39.9% to 33.4%. Much of the weakness was attributed to Nokia, whose smartphone business has been flailing .
The Finnish giant's smartphone segment saw revenue plunge 39% last quarter, with unit sales similarly dropping an uninspiring 38%. Nokia reports a fresh batch of earnings results this Thursday, so we'll see if the company has been able to tap into its partnership with Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) . The pair has just recently launched their first offspring, the Lumia lineup running Windows Phone. Initial reports peg European sales topping 1 million units, but you can't tell by looking at STMicro's bottom line.
STMicro has been trying to wean itself from relying too heavily on Nokia, which is still a work in progress. The company expects weakness from Nokia to continue weighing on it into this year. STMicro CEO Carlo Bozotti is trying to remain optimistic about the company's future prospects, saying, "We are confident of a recovery, but we are not confident of the speed of such a recovery."
Another source of obstacles is its wireless joint venture with LM Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERIC ) segment ST-Ericsson. The JV has been trying to find new customers and ramp up new technologies, but troubles persist. STMicro said transitioning the JV's shift from older products has "proven more challenging than expected." If the venture continues to be problematic, STMicro may even need to take an impairment charge and write down its carrying value.
The wireless division is the biggest problem child, with the division generating an operating loss of $812 million for the year, the worst-performing segment by far. With such gloomy results, there are much better component plays within the mobile revolution. It just so happens that The Motley Fool has just released a special free report on the topic. These component picks have much better prospects, and are set to become "3 Hidden Winners of the iPhone, iPad, and Android Revolution." Check out the report now for some investing ideas that are far more promising than STMicro -- it's 100% free.