HELSINKI Next week could be crunch time for Nokia Oyj NOK1V.HE and its Chief Executive Stephen Elop in their battle to prove the Finnish mobile phone company can survive on its own.
Investors will be scrutinising second-quarter results to see whether there's enough cash to stay with a turnaround plan which Elop said would take two years but is now into its third.
Elop's bold bet in 2011 to adopt Microsoft Corp's (MSFT.O) untested Windows Phone software has yet to pay off, with no sign of catching Samsung (005930.KS) and Apple Inc (AAPL.O) in smartphones.
Analysts also expect Thursday's results to show a steep fall in handset shipments, led by a drop in sales of regular mobile phones as consumers switch to smartphones and cheaper models from Asian rivals.
Nokia's weak market position has made it a perennial target of takeover speculation, but such deal talk has intensified in the past month after a media report said it had held abortive talks with Microsoft.
The company's recent decision to buy Siemens AG's (SIEGn.DE) stake in their joint venture Nokia Siemens Networks NOKI.UL is seen straining its balance sheet further when the deal closes later this year.
"I'm going to take a deep look at underlying cash flow," said Alandsbanken analyst Lars Soderfjell. He believed Nokia would stay independent for longer as its current state was unlikely to warrant a good price, but he said a deal couldn't be ruled out depending on its finances.
"If it's not able to control cash, that might trigger strategic options," Soderfjell said.
Nokia earlier this month estimated its net cash position at the end of the second quarter was between 3.7 billion euros and 4.2 billion - implying it burned through between 300 million euros and 800 million in the quarter.
The upper end of that range would be worryingly high, some analysts said.
Most analysts, however, also saw the acquisition of Siemens' NSN stake in a positive light, saying the price was cheap given NSN's turnaround in the past year. The formerly troubled unit is seen bolstering, rather than weighing on, Nokia's bottom line.
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Despite that boost, Nokia still faces a challenging battle in both basic mobile phones and smartphones.
Basic phones still account for over half of its device sales, making them a market worth protecting. Yet analysts forecast quarterly shipments of basic handsets to fall 24 percent from a year earlier to 56 million units.
Smartphones are also seen crucial for its longer-term survival, due to their higher margins and as more consumers seek access to sites such as Facebook (FB.O) from their phones.
Analysts estimated smartphone shipments fell 19 percent to 8 million units as a decline in sales of outmoded Symbian phones canceled out growth in Lumia sales.
Nokia has launched a number of smartphone models this year in a bid to regain market share. On Wednesday, it unveiled its newest model, the Lumia 1020, with a 41-megapixel camera that some tech bloggers said was the best in the market.
Yet some still worry Nokia may be arriving too late to the game, just as it starts to show signs of saturation. Smartphone leader Samsung last week estimated its second-quarter operating profit was 9.5 trillion won, missing the market consensus of 10.2 trillion.
"Overall the smartphone market has been quite underwhelming in the first half of the year," said Pacific Crest analyst James Faucette.
Weak handset shipments could prompt a sell-off in Nokia shares, which have risen over 20 percent in the past quarter on hopes of a buyout and enthusiasm over new handsets. But any sign that Elop was open to a buyout could send them even higher.
(Editing by David Holmes)