Motorola's (MOT) slide steepened Friday as investors wondered if the wireless titan is turning into a one-hit wonder.
Riding on the ever-so-thin shoulders of the Razr phone, Motorola
delivered mixed fourth-quarter results late Thursday. Motorola shares dropped 7% Friday, as investors considered the weak performance of the company's other phones.
All eyes now turn to No. 1 cell-phone maker
, which is due to report fourth-quarter earnings Thursday. Since Motorola's market share didn't really budge, there is reason to think that Helsinki's Nokia may have made gains of its own in the holiday quarter.
Back in Schaumburg, Ill., there were other issues. While profits slightly exceeded expectations and deliveries couldn't keep up with demand, Wall Street was shocked by the sudden onset of softness in Motorola's cell-phone margins. Fourth-quarter operating margins were flat with the prior period, killing what had been an encouraging six-quarter expansion streak.
Executives blamed the margin disappointment on the expenses associated with opening new markets such as India and rolling out new phones.
But while margins and component shortages were the specifics that stuck out in the quarter, industry observers say even the slightest crack opens up a wide opportunity for doubt about Motorola, especially amid a shaky tech earnings period. This week, tech leaders
all reported disappointing results or offered wan outlooks.
It seems Motorola's reliance on the Razr cuts both ways.
Fourth-quarter shipments of the iconic slender folding phone blew past the 10 million mark analysts were looking for, hitting nearly 12 million units. Razr is now the most popular clamshell-style phone in the world, said CEO Ed Zander on an earnings call Thursday.
But Razr's record strength may have contributed to sluggish sales of the other 25 phone models Motorola introduced last year. Razr sales doubled, but Motorola's total shipment numbers didn't expand across the board.
"Absent Razr, Motorola's handset unit volume declined in the holiday quarter," says Sanford Bernstein analyst Paul Sagawa.
Fashions fade, and the Razr is 18 months old, observers point out.
"You can't keep doubling Razr shipments quarter over quarter," warns Sagawa, who has a neutral rating on Motorola and a buy on Nokia.