Editor's Note: Cody Willard's column runs exclusively on RealMoney.com; this is a special free look at his column. For a free trial subscription to RealMoney.com, click here. This article was published May 24 on RealMoney.
Pardon me for raining on
recent parade uphill, but I just don't see what everyone's smiling about.
The latest cell-phone statistics from Gartner showed previous ne'er-do-well Motorola catching some momentum in the first quarter. Motorola increased its sales of cell phones some 10% to 14.5 million units. Heck, I even bought myself a Motorola phone last quarter.
, the clear leader in the cell-phone business and the only company that's also figured out how to make any real money in it, saw sales of its cell phones drop 3% to 32.5 million units, according to Gartner.
Don't Extrapolate a Trend
So the market took this blip of data, pushed Motorola's stock higher and took Nokia stock out to the woodshed. Motorola is now up nearly 40% in the past three months, while Nokia has sunk 40%. I think these moves are wrong and will be reversed as it becomes clearer that last quarter's data, far from being a trend, will be reversed too.
The reason that Motorola kicked some Nokia tail last quarter has more to do with Nokia than it does with Motorola. Nokia was in the process of rolling out some very cool new phones and thus saw consumers weary of purchasing the older models. Motorola continues to crank out some decent little models itself, but it has nowhere near the loyal or entrenched customer base that Nokia brings to the table.
Quite contrary to last quarter's fledgling "trend," we can actually expect Nokia to take back the market share it lost last quarter -- and then some. Those snazzy new Nokia phones have been hitting store shelves in the past few weeks.
A Tough Market
Let me throw out one big-time caveat: I have been harping for months that the wireless industry is nearing a teleconomic depression. While it won't quite rival the ongoing wireline depression, I'm concerned that it will be brutal enough that most wireless stocks, particularly those that depend on infrastructure sales, will be slaughtered.
Both Nokia and Motorola depend not only on selling cell phones to us consumers, but also on selling infrastructure equipment to an increasingly cash-conservative customer base: the wireless service providers. These providers are reeling from slower growth, troubling average-revenue-per-subscriber rates, too much debt and too many competitors.
Given all that, I'm sure not looking to build any serious positions here. But I would consider playing a little hedge game by trying to take advantage of the Motorola-Nokia disconnect. I'd do so by putting some long Nokia on the books, while taking a little short position on its lesser rival, Motorola.
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Cody Willard is a telecom and financial analyst/consultant. He is also founder of
TelEconomics.com. Willard has co-managed $150 million in private investment funds and has headed up the research and analysis division of a venture development company. He has founded several telecom and technology companies and has managed the wholesale division of a $100 million CLEC.
He also produces a premium product for TheStreet.com called
The Telecom Connection. At time of publication, Willard had no positions in any of the securities mentioned in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Willard appreciates your feedback and invites you to send it to