Skip to main content

Updated from 5:52 p.m. ET

Hold off on trying to price cell phone maker



larger-than-expected loss into the stock. There's more news to come.

Motorola on Tuesday booked a loss of 9 cents a share, falling short of expectations for its first-quarter results by 2 cents a share.

The company's conference call, during which executives are expected to discuss how the rest of the year is looking for handsets and semiconductors, doesn't take place until 8 a.m. EDT Wednesday.

That means that some investors' questions -- such as where inventories are headed, how much the company is setting aside for capital spending this year, forecasts for cell phone sales and specifics about the balance sheet -- will have to wait another half-day to be answered.

One area that has come fast into the spotlight is Motorola's balance sheet. Last week, the stock dropped sharply as the company's annual report played into investor worries about the company facing a liquidity crunch and being able to get the credit it may need from banks during upcoming quarters. Motorola denied then that it has any serious liquidity problems.

In the earnings statement, Robert Growney, president and chief operating officer, defended the company's financing arrangements, saying that it was cash flow was positive in the first quarter and that "important positive progress was made on key aspects of our balance sheet."

Some of the more interesting numbers include net inventories, which fell to $4.53 billion on March 31 from $5.2 billion on Dec. 31, and net receivables, which dropped to $5.6 billion from $7.1 billion. Cash rose to $4 billion from $3.3 billion while long-term debt climbed to $6.7 billion from $4.3 billion.

Another thing that will be weighing heavily on investors' minds is how much inventory Motorola had to write down in the first quarter. The company hoarded parts and chips, expecting to sell 100 million phones this year, but since the handset business has cooled the company will be lucky to sell 70 million to 75 million phones, analysts say.

But while Motorola might be looking to dump old chips and phones, it also was buying a significant number of new chips from a major supplier, says one Wall Street analyst, who was checking Motorola's supply channels first hand Monday. (The analyst has no rating on Motorola, and his firm has done no underwriting for the company.) The new chips are at the core of a new line of phones Motorola is expected to introduce late in the year.

To be sure, even a small surge in chip orders indicates a welcome degree of health from a company that has had its share of challenges over the past year. Some of the recent upgrades from analysts may be in part fueled by a faint whiff of new business growth from the Schaumburg, Ill., wireless shop.

Those upgrades certainly weren't related to the figures revealed in the disappointing quarterly results Tuesday. Analysts had expected Motorola to book a loss of 7 cents a share in the first quarter, according to

Thomson Financial/First Call

, compared with an adjusted profit of 21 cents a share in the year-ago quarter. And revenue also was weaker than expected at $7.75 billion, down from $8.75 billion in the year-earlier quarter. The company attributed the shortfall to weak order growth and a global change in customer requirements.

Sales fell across the board with some of the largest drops seen in handsets and semiconductors. Sales for the handset division fell 34% to $2.28 billion during the first quarter from $3.46 billion in the fourth quarter. Semiconductor sales dropped 16% to $1.48 billion from $1.78 billion in the fourth quarter.

Investors had apparently been hoping for more. Motorola shares rose 13%, or $1.50 to $13 during trading on Tuesday.

Motorola gave investors a heads up about how weak this quarter would be back in late February. At the time, analysts were expecting earnings to come in at 12 cents a share and were looking for revenues of $8.8 billion. But during the last month, those numbers have come in sharply, with analysts expecting revenues of $7.97 billion for the first quarter.

The company has been suffering as demand for cell phones wanes. Many customers, especially in Europe, already have cell phones and aren't holding out to replace them with new ones. The macroeconomic slowdown has only worsened that situation. In addition, Motorola's always volatile semiconductor business has suffered because of high inventories and weak demand.

Senior Writer

Scott Moritz contributed to this story.