Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) finally pulled the trigger on a deal that's been long in the making. The software giant will acquire the mobile division of Finnish mobile-phone maker Nokia (NYSE:NOK) in a $7.2 billion blockbuster deal, set to close in early 2014 if all goes as planned.
Nokia is an obvious winner here. Its share price jumped as much as 48% overnight before settling down to a still-enormous 30% afternoon gain. Nokia hasn't traded at these prices since early 2012, and the stock is still down 80% over the last five years. The company never found a way to protect its formerly dominant mobile market share in this new smartphone era, and this exit strategy is about the best the Finns could hope for.
The purchase is not so obviously good for Microsoft, though. The Redmond's shares plunged 6% on the news, with the first two hours of post-holiday market action doubling Microsoft's daily average trading volume. The price drop removed 15 points from the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI), and Microsoft is easily the weakest Dow performer on this dullTuesday.
The Nokia deal adds a serious hardware division to Microsoft, in line with outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer's vision of a "devices and services" model. The new Microsoft is starting to look a lot like the old Apple, where a single company provides the entire stack of hardware and software to build high-end smartphones.
This has worked fantastically well for Apple, which has become one of the world's largest businesses by important metrics like market cap, profit, and cash flows. But will it work similar wonders for Redmond? Aside from the Xbox gaming console, Microsoft is not known for its hardware prowess. Failures like the Zune music player, the Surface tablet, and the Kin handset don't bode well for Microsoft-branded Nokia products.
Then again, Nokia comes with some 30,000 experienced engineers, designers, and support staff. That talent, plus Microsoft's financial and marketing heft, might add up to something good. But investors seem skeptical today.
But this megadeal also shines a whole new light on the mobile market at large. Investors seem to be confused about the long-term implications, judging by the price swings Microsoft's offer unleashed.
Alcatel-Lucent (UNKNOWN:ALU.DL) has soared more than 12%. The Nokia that remains outside Microsoft's umbrella will refocus on mapping services, intellectual property dealings...and networking infrastructure. Alcatel would make sense as a buyout target for the newly cash-rich Nokia. Then again, putting these two turnaround efforts together would complicate both of them and probably achieve neither. So that's a long shot at best.
In other news, Ericsson has also spiked, as if Nokia's infrastructure services suddenly pose a smaller threat. That flies in the face of the Alcatel reaction, which signals the exact opposite market change. In my view, Ericsson shares deserve to trade lower today.
BlackBerry (NYSE:BB) shares have gained a modest 1.7%. That's another head-scratcher. Are investors hoping for another multibillion-dollar buyout, this time in Canada? If so, then they're forgetting that the big names with decent buyout budgets already have their hardware needs covered.
Do they expect the integrated Microsoft-Nokia combination to sell fewer handsets in BlackBerry's core markets in the developing world? Then they didn't read the part of the deal announcement stating that Microsoft will manage Nokia's old feature-phone products, too. If anything, BlackBerry just gained a stronger rival.
The true winners and losers will materialize in the long term. Today, only the Microsoft and Nokia swings make any sense.