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It's not easy being green -- or being Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) . The Finnish cell-phone giant is dodging a veritable bullet storm these days.
Where to begin? Oh, let's just dive in headlong.
Buy me -- please!
Last week, rumor had it that Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) wanted to buy Nokia outright. That made sense on the surface because of the already-tight connection between the two companies: Nokia CEO Stephen Elop took that job straight out of Compton … I mean, Redmond. That connection then led to a software partnership, in which Nokia is ditching years of Symbian and MeeGo development in favor of Mr. Softy's highly unusual but as-yet unloved Windows Phone platform.
But Nokia denied the rumor, calling it "baseless" -- and shares plunged without hestitation. It didn't help any that the denial came as an aside to dramatically lowered guidance.
This week, the rumor mill started up again. This time, the supposed Nokia buyer was Korean electronics giant Samsung. Once again, Nokia flatly denies any behind-the-scenes talks because "Nokia is not for sale." The original rumor hardly moved Nokia shares to begin with, so this hand-washing didn't hurt much.
Still, that's two rumored buyouts shot down in the span of a few days. It's starting to smell like attempted market manipulation -- just not a very successful campaign.
Nokia's handset business is not the only part of the company drawing fire. The balance sheet is another popular target.
On Tuesday, credit-ratings powerhouse Fitch cut Nokia down to a just-above-junk BBB- rating with a negative long-term outlook. On Thursday, Standard & Poor's followed suit, placing Nokia on "CreditWatch with negative implications." Both firms cite falling sales and pressured margins as reasons for their downgrades.
Fitch even discounts Nokia's $16 billion pile of cash -- which, even when considering debt, leaves the company with a net balance of $10 billion -- because companies in Nokia's situation "can feel threatened to rapidly spend accumulated cash in a number of ways when faced with steep changes in market-share dynamics." In other words, Nokia might be tempted to blow all that cash on pointless acquisitions or other panic moves, which wouldn't help shareholders any.
But wait -- there's more!
The fun didn't stop there. Chief Technology Officer Rich Green picked this backdrop against which to take personal leave -- and local newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reports that he's not coming back. That's because he -- again, the company CTO -- disagreed with the technical direction Nokia is taking.
Overriding the CTO in matters of technical strategy makes you wonder why Elop bothered to hire Green in the first place. It's also another vote of no confidence from an executive supremely poised to know something about what Windows Phone means to the company.
The carnival of errors has gone so far that component suppliers from little Skyworks Solutions (Nasdaq: SWKS ) to mighty Texas Instruments (NYSE: TXN ) are pointing fingers at Nokia for causing them trouble.
Next to perennially unloved Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) , it's hard to come up with a mobile specialist matching Nokia's level of market skepticism. Both stocks have dropped more than 35% year to date.
Granted, arch nemeses Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) and Google, whose iPhone and Android product lines caused all this trouble to begin with, have hardly set the world on fire in 2011, either. But weak pricing on Apple and Google tempts analysts to pile on with "buy" ratings thanks to the value pricing those stocks have come to represent. Nokia's low price and increasingly meaty dividend yield (now at 9.6%) have been met with downgrades and reiterated "hold" ratings at best.
There's no love to go around, nor any high hopes of a drastic turnaround. Nokia's stock is seen as dead money as Android and Apple are eating its global market share, hold the ketchup.
Elop isn't making any friends by claiming that Apple's closed ecosystem essentially created the need for an open Android system, as he did at a conference in London this week. It's starting to look as though the supposed savior of Nokia has no clue what he's dealing with. Did Microsoft plant him there just to gain a reliable hardware partner? If so, it looks like that sneaky strategy backfired.
Does Nokia stand a chance in this market with its cart firmly attached to Microsoft's mobile horse? I don't think so. Remember that Palm once commanded a market cap north of $50 billion before falling to superior competition and selling out to Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) for a $1.2 billion song. Nokia is not too big to fail.