Alcatel: Time to Buy or Time to Panic?

Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU  ) is under heavy fire. Shares are exploring fresh all-time lows today after the French-American telecom-equipment maker reported weak second-quarter results.

Sales fell 7% year-over-year to $4.3 billion. The 2011 period's modest net profit turned into a significant net loss in 2012. Both the top and bottom lines missed Wall Street's estimates by a country mile. And management is reacting in full-on panic mode.

By the end of 2013, Alcatel hopes to have reduced annual costs by $1.5 billion by slashing 5,000 jobs, halting contributions to American pension plans until "at least 2016," and treating its patent portfolio as "an independent profit center." Translation of that last point from French to plain American: Call in the attack lawyers.

And if you thought the pension plan funding was put on ice because the pension fund is just so darn healthy, you're sadly mistaken. Alcatel also clarified that its pension deficits nearly doubled over the last quarter to $2.6 billion. If anything, the funds could use a serious cash infusion right about now. But Alcatel simply can't afford it.

If management panics, maybe investors should be nervous as well. Turnarounds bring awesome profits when they work, but those Cinderella stories are sadly few and far between. Sticking close to the telecom-gear industry, Nortel Networks never broke its terminal fever and was eventually sold for parts. Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) seems headed for the same deep dark chasm of irrelevance and fiscal destruction. Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) might make it, but only if Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) truly puts its back into supporting the Finnish handset maker. Redmond might not do that.

And I'm afraid that Alcatel-Lucent is heading down the same terrifying path to a big fat zero. The stock used to look cheap, but only if you held out hope for a revival. I don't anymore, so it's time to slap a thumbs-down CAPScall on Alcatel.

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies mentioned. Check out Anders' holdings and bio, or follow him on Twitter and Google+. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Microsoft. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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  • Report this Comment On July 26, 2012, at 8:18 PM, Edeskimo wrote:

    I would be more inclined to duck and run if it looked like the company weren't innovating and coming out with great products.

    In addition to getting more money from IP patents they also have their new super fast routers out there and they also have their new Wifi cubes out their that could take over from expensive towers that currently provide coverage in most cities (they are very small and attach onto light posts).

    I think these are future winners for them but now is a very tough time for them with many telcos reluctant to invest much in infrastructure. Eventually they will have to or they will get left behind by competitors who build a better and faster network for mobile communication.

  • Report this Comment On July 27, 2012, at 8:18 AM, wiseone53 wrote:

    Very poor journalism in this article. The comments about the pension plan are simply not true. The reason that there will be no contributions to the US pension plans until 2016 is because they are over 100% funded and are projected to stay that well funded until at least 2016. Since the plans are frozen, there is no need for ALU to contribute to an already over funded plan in the US. While it's true there are some underfunded pension plans outside of the USA, the quote in the quarterly earnings was specific to the US pension plans. That quote was taken completely out of context. Please do a better job of reporting these critical facts. You have now lost all credibility in my books regarding your understanding of financial matters.

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