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Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) could finally be close to selling off at least one of its assets: its Vertu subsidiary. A potential buyer, Swedish private equity company EQT Partners AB, is close to a deal with Nokia, two unidentified sources told Bloomberg. This news comes six weeks after the Financial Times reported that private equity company Permira was interested in buying the Vertu brand, a deal that has since died.
If you are a normal person -- that is, one who frets over your growing wireless bills coming in every month -- then you probably have never heard of Vertu. But if you have a stable full of Arabian thoroughbreds, a megayacht, and a Lamborghini or six, then how could you ever go anyplace without your Vertu mobile, n'est-ce pas? If you were a member of such a set, a call from a non-Vertu phone would hardly be worthy of picking up.
A Vertu, then, is definitely not for the 99% crowd, nor even the 1%; only the 0.01% could possibly afford one -- which, if you must ask, can cost over $300,000. A gemstone-encrusted handset, complete with sapphire keys, a crystal display, and ringtones composed by Dario Marianelli and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra does not come cheap.
However, the company that makes those phones could be had for a relative trifle.
Because of Nokia's current struggles -- its attempt to market its Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) Windows Phone-powered smartphones to a less-than-overly-receptive world, and the heavy share losses it has taken recently for its feature phones in the emerging world marketplace -- the Vertu brand could be had for a mere $250 million, according to Bloomberg's sources.
Vertu was started in 1998 and has held the lion's share of the luxury phone market. In 2010 it had 60% of that sector's Western European sales. It competed against the likes of Research In Motion's (Nasdaq: RIMM ) Porsche-branded BlackBerry mobile devices.
Vertu phones may have a flashy exterior, but the business end of the device, its operating system, is relatively mundane. The OS that powers the Vertu is Nokia's homegrown Symbian, an OS that has been proven to calm any excitement that may have arisen from the release of Nokia's pre-Windows Phone smartphones.
Nevertheless, if Nokia did not feel the pressing need to unload non-core assets, Vertu, being one of Nokia's brighter spots, would probably not be for sale. The brand got a boost in 2010 and 2011 from the emerging markets of Asia and the Middle East, which brought "high double-digit sales growth," said Vertu president Perry Oosting last September.
The company that makes Vertu phones has to be a better investment than the phones themselves, at least for those not wearing a bejeweled tiara.
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