Microsoft swallows Nokia's phone business for $7.2 billion

Tue Sep 3, 2013 3:48pm EDT
 
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By Ritsuko Ando and Bill Rigby

HELSINKI/SEATTLE (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp will buy Nokia's phone business and license its patents for 5.44 billion euros ($7.2 billion), a bold foray into mobile devices that also brings potential chief executive contender Stephen Elop back into the fold.

Two years after hitching its fate to Microsoft's Windows Phone software, the Finnish phone maker that once dominated the global market collapsed into the arms of the U.S. software giant, its mobile business ravaged by nimbler rivals Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics.

Shares in Microsoft slid as much as 6 percent in the afternoon, lopping more than $15 billion off the company's market value, as investors protested the acquisition of an underperforming and marginalized corporation that lost more than $4 billion in 2012.

Retiring CEO Steve Ballmer is trying to remake Microsoft into a gadget and services company like Apple, a move that has not won the endorsement of all shareholders.

Nokia CEO Elop, who ran Microsoft's business software division before jumping ship in 2010, will return to the U.S. firm to head up its mobile devices business just as the company's board considers a successor to Ballmer, who announced last week he will retire within a year.

Elop, who presided over Nokia's market share collapse and a shriveling share price during his three years at the helm, is being discussed as a potential replacement because he remains respected and is considered one of the few who can fully grasp Microsoft's sprawling empire.

But disgruntled Finnish media labeled him a Trojan horse who handed over the keys to one of the few remaining European technology powers. Nokia, whose market value topped $200 billion over a decade ago, will now concentrate on its networking equipment unit, navigation business and technology patents.

The Nokia deal thrusts Microsoft deeper into the hotly contested mobile phone market, despite some investors urging it to stick to its core strengths of business software and services. Activist fund manager ValueAct Capital Management, which has been offered a board seat, is among those concerned with Ballmer's leadership and his attempts to plough headlong into the lower-margin, highly competitive mobile devices arena.   Continued...

 
A Nokia Lumia 820 smartphone with Microsoft logo on the screen is shown in a photo illustration taken in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, September 3, 2013. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic