The good news in Nokia’s (NOK) January 28 fourth quarter earnings report was that gross profit margin for its cell phones drove the company’s operating margin to 15.4% for the quarter.
Analysts have worried that Nokia’s operating margin was stuck in the current 12% to 14% range indefinitely. Nokia’s operating margin was just 9.8% in 2008 but 15.6% in 2007.
The bad news is that the improvement may not be sustainable.
The smart phone market, which is where the money is in handsets now, is tooth-and-nail competitive with Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG), Research in Motion (RIMM), Samsung, and HTC all looking to grab market share not only from each other but from global market share leader Nokia.
Nokia’s smart phone share actually climbed to 40% in the fourth quarter from 35% in the third quarter.
But market researchers count up 50 new smart phone launches set for 2010.
And while Nokia got the benefit of momentum from new launches of the N97, E72, and N900 devices in the fourth quarter, the company’s lineup of new product launches looks weaker than that of competitors over the next quarter or two.
That was reflected in the company’s lowered guidance for devices and services for the first quarter of 2010. Margins are expected to come in at the low end of the company’s 12% to 14% range.
Nokia is still in the midst of a turn around that includes completely refreshing what had become a rather stodgy, no-pizzazz product line and revamping its lagging apps and music service. I think there’s tremendous value for shareholders who can wait for those efforts to bear fruit.
Just don’t count on plucking the goodies in the next quarter or two.