Motorola Solutions CEO Sees Upside

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Motorola Solutions ( MSI) got off to slushy start with weaker-than-expected sales growth projection for 2011.

The tech shop, formed earlier this year with the split from phone shop Motorola Mobility ( MMI), posted adjusted earnings of $352 million or 96 cents a share, flat with year-ago levels.
Motorola Solutions chief Greg Brown ringing the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange on Jan 4.

The company, focused mostly on barcode readers and a police radio business, booked sales of $2.25 billion, a 13% increase over the $1.98 billion level a year ago.

Looking ahead, the company says it expects first quarter sales to grow about 4% and full year sales to be 4% up also. The 4% annual growth marks a significant slowdown compared with the 10% growth the company hit in 2010.

And for those looking for additional comparisons, Motorola Solutions' first quarter guidance of 4% growth would be down 20% sequentially from the fourth quarter, which compares with a 12% sequential decline in the same period a year ago.

CEO Greg Brown said in an interview with TheStreet that some of the weakness in the comparison reflects the stronger snapback in spending in 2010 among businesses, after a few rough years of budget cuts after the banking meltdown of 2008.

Brown says he is optimistic about the year ahead, however.

He says he expects the sale of the networking business to Nokia Siemens to close later this quarter and says the legal effort by Huawei to block the deal has no merit. He pointed to the upcoming conversion of public safety radios to digital technology from analog as a lucrative upgrade cycle for the company. And he was particularly jazzed about the LTE or 4G expansion of private public safety networks starting this year.

On the networking unit sale, Brown estimated that the company would reap about $1.1 billion from the deal.

Brown said that cash represented a way to work down debt and he held out the possibility of a stock buyback or dividend for investors.

"It's an opportunity for us to look at further improving the balance sheet," Brown said on the earnings call with analysts, referring to the $1.1 billion in sale proceeds. And he added that "returning capital to shareholders will certainly be a consideration."

Motorola Solutions shares were down 1.5% to $38.65 Thursday.

--Written by Scott Moritz in New York.

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