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When your airplane has engine problems and is slowly but inevitably losing altitude, the thing to do is start dumping non-essential items out the window to lighten the aircraft. If a company is in dire straits and seems ready to corkscrew itself into the ground, then it, too, should start looking around for some excess baggage to jettison.
And that's the situation that Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) is in right now. At the end of a bad April -- in which it tried to launch through AT&T (NYSE: T ) what it hoped to be a third competitive smartphone ecosystem, lost its mobile-phone sales lead to Samsung, announced very poor earnings numbers, and was downgraded by Moody's, Fitch, and Standard & Poor's, the latter dropping Nokia into "junk" territory -- the Finnish phone maker is looking around for some deadweight to give the old heave-ho.
If you have to ask the price, you can't afford it
As reported by the Financial Times, the company is looking at its Vertu brand of luxury handsets as a worthy candidate for its yard sale. The Vertu phones, which can cost more than $314,000, are made with precious metals, come with exclusive ringtones (compositions by Dario Marianelli performed by the London Symphony Orchestra), and convey onto their owners a special concierge service to book flights, hotels, and the like.
Obviously, Vertu is not a brand for the huddled masses. The buyer that FT reports Nokia is in serious talks with is the private-equity firm Permira, which intends to target this ultra-rich niche phone toward 0.01%-ers living in the Middle East and Asia, according to FT sources. Permira also owns the Hugo Boss and Valentino brands.
Buyers of the Vertu will obviously be more blinded by the sparkle of gemstones than any technological flash. The operating system is not Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iOS, Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Android, or even Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT ) Windows Phone. No, it's Nokia's own essentially abandoned OS, Symbian, which has been blamed for the company's slow smartphone start.
Good luck to Permira, but for Nokia, it's going to take a while for the Windows Phone-powered Nokia line of smartphones to start taking market share away from the iPhone and Android phones -- if it can at all. So if the Nokia jumbo jet is flying overhead, seek shelter. Who knows what else will be falling to Earth.
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