Nokia in talks to acquire network-equipment rival Alcatel

STOCKHOLM — Nokia is in advanced talks to acquire Alcatel-Lucent in the Finnish telecommunications-equipment maker’s biggest-ever acquisition that could give the French rival a market value of more than $13 billion.

The negotiations may lead to a takeover offer for Paris- based Alcatel, although there is no certainty an agreement can be reached, the companies said in statements Tuesday. Alcatel shares jumped as much as 18 percent in the French capital to the highest price in almost seven years. Nokia fell as much as 8.3 percent on the Helsinki exchange.

Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent both have major operations in North Texas. 

Commentary: Nokia’s Alcatel bid marks Finnish comeback

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The combined entity would become the biggest maker of wireless-network equipment, surpassing Sweden’s Ericsson and Huawei Technologies of China, according to IDC. The deal would let Chief Executive Officer Rajeev Suri bolster Nokia’s position in China, a market with about 1.3 billion mobile subscribers, and take on some contracts with the two biggest U.S. carriers — Verizon Communications and AT&T.

“It’s a real game changer,” said Sami Sarkamies, an analyst at Nordea Bank in Helsinki. “They have a lot of work ahead, but Suri has a good background for this.”

A takeover will probably dilute Nokia’s profit margins from the wireless business, according to Bloomberg analysts John Butler and Matthew Kanterman.

Nokia and Alcatel have more than 110,000 workers combined. Suri, who took over as head of Nokia’s networks unit in 2009, has revived the business by cutting more than 25,000 jobs over the past three years and focusing on more lucrative contracts.

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Nokia executives are seeking to secure French state backing for a deal, a person familiar with the matter said. Any deal would need a green light from President Francois Hollande’s government, which has previously tried to block corporate mergers in the country. Hollande will meet with the heads of Nokia and Alcatel today, the president’s office said.

The government will pay attention to possible impact for jobs and operations at Alcatel’s French sites, a spokeswoman for the Economy Ministry said by phone.

Qiao Yuhua, a spokeswoman for Alcatel-Lucent Shanghai Bell, declined to comment on how a deal would affect the Chinese network-equipment venture.

The takeover would also let Nokia add products used for transmitting landline and Internet traffic, giving it a more complete offering to sell to carriers as the amount of data traveling on networks increases with the popularity of Netflix and other video and music services.

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In a response, Ericsson could seek to combine with Juniper Networks Inc., a maker of Internet routers with a market value of almost $10 billion, Nordea’s Sarkamies said. A spokesman for Ericsson declined to comment.

Ericsson is now the largest maker of wireless-network gear — which includes equipment such as base stations and antennas that transmit mobile-phone calls and data — with a market share of 25.7 percent in 2014, according to IDC. Huawei had 23.2 percent, Nokia 15.8 percent and Alcatel 11.4 percent share.

Alexander Peterc, an analyst at Exane BNP Paribas, said Alcatel could be worth 4.50 euros per share in a sale, which would value the company’s equity at 12.7 billion euros ($13.4 billion).

A planned disposal of Nokia’s maps business, HERE, has led analysts to speculate that the proceeds could be used to help pay for acquisitions. Bloomberg News reported on Friday that Nokia is exploring a sale of HERE.

Nokia’s purchase of Alcatel may be the biggest in the industry since at least 1999, when Lucent Technologies bought Ascend Communications for about $21 billion, according to Bloomberg data. Depending on the final terms of the deal, it would also be comparable to the transaction that created today’s Alcatel: the French company’s purchase of Lucent in 2006 for $13.4 billion, according to Bloomberg data.

The deal would top Nokia’s record acquisition of map provider Navteq Corp. for about $8 billion in 2008, and would be the biggest-ever by a Finnish company.

Consolidation has dominated conversations in the network- equipment industry for at least the past five years, as price wars dragged profits down and carriers reduce spending on infrastructure amid sluggish revenue.

Talks between Nokia and Alcatel have been on and off in the past. In 2013, Nokia weighed options including a combination with Alcatel’s mobile-phone networks unit.

Alcatel shares have more than tripled since Michel Combes became CEO in 2013 as he reduced costs and landed contracts from new customers. Combes has less than eight months left of his three-year turnaround plan, aimed at making Alcatel profitable and helping it generate cash.

The company lost billions of dollars in the years following its deal with Lucent as its struggled to revive sales growth. At the time of the merger, the combined company had an aggregate market value of 30 billion euros.

Founded as a wood-pulp mill in 1865, Nokia’s transformations have included switches from rubber boots and toilet paper to cables, televisions, computers and mobile phones. It was the world’s largest handset maker — with a market value reaching 300 billion euros — before Apple and Samsung Electronics claimed its leadership.

Nokia shares have more than doubled since the company agreed to sell its mobile-phone business to Microsoft in 2013 for about $7.5 billion. Its 5 billion euros in net cash can now help the Finnish company finance a transaction.

— With assistance from Manuel Baigorri and Matthew Campbell in London, Naomi Kresge in Berlin, Jacqueline Simmons, Helene Fouquet and Francois de Beaupuy in Paris, Alex Sherman and Jeffrey McCracken in New York and Edmond Lococo in Beijing. Robert Francis of the Business Press also contributed to this report.