Lucent ( LU) loyalists are looking at little reward as the last chapter looms.
Alcatel's ( ALA) board is expected to iron out the last details of its $13 billion "merger of equals" acquisition of Lucent this weekend, though neither camp is offering any guarantees. But one thing seems certain: long-suffering Lucent shareholders aren't going to get the big payoff they have waited for so patiently. Barring the arrival of a highly motivated outside bidder, Lucent's lengthy slide seems to have earned it little or no premium above the company's current stock value. The postboom era hasn't been all that fruitful for Lucent. The stock has been stuck below $5 for more than three years. And at this point, Lucent is facing a wall rather than a lot of encouraging options. Telco mergers like SBC and AT&T ( T), along with Verizon ( VZ) and MCI, have critically shrunk Lucent's customer list. The company's strong run with wireless network contracts is fading. And big sales of next generation IP multimedia subsystems -- the so-called IMS gear used to manage a variety of data including video and wireless traffic -- is still more than a year off. The desperation behind Lucent's effort to rekindle a failed merger with Alcatel has some investors averting their eyes. It is also somewhat telling that analysts list among the pluses Lucent brings to the deal is its billions of dollars worth of tax credits, earned for years of red ink. If the combined company is structured a certain way, a good portion of Lucent's $6 billion in tax-loss carry forwards can be applied to future tax bills, say UBS analysts. Tax benefits, however, don't seem to be getting many investors excited about Lucent. "There's just no money to be made in that deal, period," says one New York money manager who has no positions in Lucent or Alcatel. But while Lucent appears to be sputtering its way out of existence, some investors see upside opportunities for Alcatel in the deal. "I can see why it's a deal of desperation on the Lucent side, but there are huge synergies for Alcatel in this," says a hedge fund manager who is buying more Lucent. For example, says the hedge fund manager, in research and development there's a major opportunity for savings. You have scientists in Alcatel's labs and scientists in Lucent's labs both working on the same problem, some underpinning technology that will lead to a new networking development, says the investor. "You won't need two engineers working on the same problem, or two sales reps wining and dining the same buyer. If I'm right, 1 plus 1 equals 1.2," says the hedge fund manager, referring to the staff and operation cuts or synergies of the two companies consolidating. Observers say its important that the two companies sell this deal to shareholders by convincing them that there's more to the pairing than cuts. Lucent shares were down 4 cents to $3.05 and Alcatel was down 30 cents to $15.41 in midday trading Friday.