Nortel Won't Be Back

Nortel (OTC BB: NRTLQ.PK) is riding into the sunset, singing a sad song. If you're a Nortel investor, I sure hope your portfolio is sensibly diversified. This stock ain't coming back.

We told you back in January that the former telecom equipment giant probably won't make it through this bankruptcy in one piece. Now, the Wall Street Journal agrees wholeheartedly.

"Several competitors have expressed interest in buying Nortel's enterprise unit," says the WSJ. Suitors include German tech mastodon Siemens (NYSE: SI  ) and privately held Avaya, which once was a part of Lucent. Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO  ) is keeping itself informed, but is reportedly not interested in buying that Nortel unit.

The wireless phone network unit is talking to Nokia Siemens, a joint venture between Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) and (you guessed it!) Siemens, and other rivals. The Journal didn't mention market leader LM Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERIC  ) nor Cisco in that discussion.

So the Nortel saga is winding down just like I thought it would. "It's the corporate equivalent of chopping up a car and selling it part by part," I said in January. Take away the enterprise and wireless segments, and Nortel is left with its metro ethernet networks and a little bit of services. It's less than one-third of Nortel's total business -- and the metro division tends to lose money, year by year.

The best a Nortel investor can hope for today is that Nokia, Siemens, and whoever else might be involved in this drama would pay a nice buyout premium for the pieces they want. But even that probably won't be good enough. At last count, Nortel had $2.5 billion of cash reserves, but $4.5 billion of long-term debt to pay. It'll take a couple of generous offers to pay back all the debtors and start thinking about returning anything to shareholders.

In other words, these shares are about as valuable as the paper on which they're printed. This is not a turnaround story of the kind that makes millionaires. You have to go elsewhere to find those.

Goodbye, Nortel. It was nice knowing you.

Further Foolishness:

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no 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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