|April 17, 2004|
Slow to Adapt, Nokia Loses Market Share in Latest Cellphones
By ALAN COWELL
LONDON, April 16 - Nokia, the world's largest mobile phone maker, paid a heavy price on Friday for missing the trend toward stylish clamshell phone handsets, denting its vaunted reputation as the arbiter of cellphone chic.
Biting into Nokia's market share, the company's hottest rival, Samsung Electronics, reported soaring profits, while Nokia forecast a further slump. Nokia shares touched a 13-month low as investors began looking toward other cellphone makers regarded as likely to tap into a market of fleeting fashions and fickle loyalties.
"No brand can stay cool forever," said Peter Firstbrook, an analyst with the META Group, a technology research consultant firm in Stamford, Conn. "Nokia has been slow to adapt."
The contrast between Nokia, based in Finland, and Samsung, based in South Korea, could hardly have been more stark as they made their announcements a few hours apart.
Samsung recorded $2.7 billion in profit in the first quarter, an increase of 178 percent from the period a year ago and its best quarter ever; sales were up 50 percent. Nokia said that the 2 percent drop in its first-quarter profits, announced last week, could be followed by second-quarter sales that are likely to be "slightly below" the $8.4 billion it recorded in the period last year.
Samsung executives seemed surprised by the surge in their company's fortunes, and forecast better things to come in the second quarter. Nokia said it was "not satisfied with our sales development during the first quarter."
Nokia still has the leading share of the world handset market, manufacturing 35 percent of the 128 million mobile phones sold in the first quarter. But Nokia lost three percentage points of share from the last quarter of 2003, while Samsung, which ranks third by sales volume after Nokia and Motorola, gained ground.
Samsung said on Friday that it expected its market share to rise by almost four percentage points, to 14 percent. Nokia said its goal was still to secure 40 percent of world mobile phone sales.
Most striking, however, is that recent declines in Nokia's share price mean that Samsung's market capitalization has now overtaken Nokia's as the largest for any technology company outside the United States. The shift in part reflects Samsung's much broader product line, which includes memory chips and flat-screen displays as well as high-end mobile phones, at a time when all those products are fetching high prices.
Shares of Nokia, which at one point in the day were off nearly 10 percent, closed at 12.40 euros, down 8.2 percent. Samsung's share price also fell on Friday, along with most Korean companies, but after the day's trading, Samsung's market capitalization was equivalent to $76.4 billion, compared with $69.4 billion for Nokia.
"Nokia has obviously made some major mistakes," said Urban Ekelund, an analyst with Redeye, a private research company in Stockholm. "Firstly, they haven't launched clamshell products, which came to Asia one and a half years ago. And second, they haven't launched products with good color screens and cameras."
By contrast, Samsung has been "focusing on high-end products," Mr. Ekelund said in a telephone interview, while "Nokia has been focusing too much on the low end," and on emerging economies rather than richer markets like the United States.
In a television interview, Jorma Ollila, Nokia's chief executive, said, "There were some changes in the products of our competitors, and we were not as swift in moving."
In a conference call with analysts, Mr. Ollila said that Nokia planned to introduce 31 new models this year, including about 6 of the flip-top type that Samsung and Motorola were quicker to unveil. But that may not reverse its fortunes.
"As you get bigger, you become the target, and it becomes harder to move quickly," said Mr. Firstbrook of the META Group. "Nokia became bigger not necessarily because they were best, but because everyone else was stumbling. Now there is more competition, and the competition is getting better. Nokia is a bit of a dinosaur in terms of changing direction. I don't think there's any one thing they can do to turn around."
Even as Nokia shares fell on Friday, those of European rivals like Ericsson and Siemens gained, as investors shifted away from what had once been seen as a rock-solid bellwether stock.
The woes came after earlier signs of trouble. On April 6, Nokia warned investors that first-quarter sales had fallen about 2 percent, a performance far short of the company's forecast of a gain of 7 percent. On Friday it said that its second-quarter earnings would probably be 0.13 euro to 0.15 euro a share, well below the 0.19 euro figure of the period a year ago, which included the costs of job cuts.
The company also said on Friday that while sales of mobile phones in general rose at a 29 percent annual rate in the first quarter, Nokia's shipments increased by only 19 percent. Operating profit at its mobile phone division fell to 1.09 billion euros.