Updated from 9:35 a.m. EST
The recession has come calling on wireless, ending a ferocious growth streak with what looks to be the first-ever negative fourth quarter.
Tech investors, already battered by the
, are bracing for more depressing news from mobile-phone giant
prior to the market opening Thursday.
All hope that the No. 1 phone maker could sidestep the falling economy seems to have vanished in recent weeks.
paltry sales of 19 million phones in the fourth quarter -- a quarter below already weak third quarter levels -- offered a hint of a coming cool-down. Adding to the gloom last week,
to a fourth-quarter loss on a 23% drop in sales from a year ago.
"With two of the top five handset vendors having reported shipments, our early read is that the handset market showed no growth in the fourth quarter, we believe, for the first time in history," JP Morgan analyst Ehud Gelblum wrote in a research note last week. Gelblum says industry sales probably fell 8% last quarter. Usually the fourth-quarter holiday season fuels between 15% to 20% year-over-year growth.
The slump in consumer spending and the shift toward smartphones leave Nokia exposed on two fronts. Last week, AmTech analyst Mark McKechnie highlighted these vulnerabilities and downgraded Nokia to sell.
"Given Nokia's longer term issues in smartphones, we would recommend investors use the most recent rally as a selling opportunity pending visibility of industry recovery or smartphone progress," McKechnie wrote.
Amid the wider global economic downturn, Nokia has failed to deliver significant upgrades to its current crop of smartphones, and its long-anticipated touchscreen phone is still months away from a U.S. debut. In the meantime, rivals like
Research In Motion
have rolled out new phones, some to
continues to lead the touchscreen category with the iPhone.
Nokia is estimated to have lost a percentage point in its marketshare last quarter with the drop off in new phone purchases, JP Morgan's Gelblum writes.
Analysts are looking for Nokia to post fourth-quarter earnings, excluding one-time items, of 37 cents a shares on $17.3 billion in sales, according to Yahoo! Finance. For the current quarter ending in March, analysts see an adjusted profit of 23 cents a share on $13.6 billion in revenue.
Going into the earnings report, Nokia's shares were down in the $13 range, just $1 above the 52-week low of $12.08 in November. Shares were up 6.3% to $13.75 at the end of Wednesday's trading session.