Black Is White, Up Is Down for Motorola

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I don't know whether Motorola (NYSE: MOT  ) wants to emulate Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) or follow in Nokia's (NYSE: NOK  ) very large footsteps. Management points to Cupertino, but its actions lead to Finland. It's a weapon of mass confusion.

All in all, Motorola reported a net loss of $0.18 per share for the third quarter on sales of around $7.5 billion. Free cash flow dwindled from $219 million a year ago to just $24 million now, and the total gross margin saw 4% of shrinkage. These are not happy numbers, and the stock price is taking an icy bath today even as the broader market takes off on a pogo stick.

Back out the mobile segment, and the rest of Motorola is working just fine. This is clearly a good time to be selling set-top boxes and network infrastructure to the likes of Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) and Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA  ) , as the cable and phone companies are racing to establish market share early on in the digital era of television and communications.

But let's get to the point. The company also announced plans to "simplify the product portfolio" in its money-losing mobile devices segment. Sales were down 31% to $3.1 billion from the third quarter of 2007, but the operating loss more than tripled to $840 million. Something clearly has to be done here, and soon.

However, it looks like nobody told the handset design team about this. Alongside the bold dedication to a simpler product line, Motorola also announced some new models under six different product line names like the MOTOROKR, Aura, and Rapture. So one minute, the company seems ready to cut down an unwieldy product list to something like Apple's two iPhone models. Two seconds later, the discussion turns to a confusing spray of new models, like Nokia.

The quicker Motorola can unload its handset operations to someone else, the better. Unfortunately, management also pushed back its deadline for that spinoff from the third quarter of 2009. In the meantime, The Wall Street Journal reports that Motorola will refocus on Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Android platform. Gutsy move, but I don't think it'll be enough to save the cell phone unit.

Kick that department out the door and rebuild Motorola around enterprise communications and TV network infrastructure. Until then, I'm not touching this stock with my FiOS remote control -- let alone with real money.

Further Foolishness:

Nokia is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings or a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.

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