It’s another tough morning for tech stocks, with Apple, HP, Oracle, Motorola, Google, and Dell all seeing their stocks fall 2% or more. The falloff is primarily from the news that consumer/retail spending fell 2.7% in December – twice the amount that economists had expected.
At least the companies I mentioned above don’t have the problems that Nortel Networks has. Nortel, the largest manufacturer of telephone equipment in North America, filed for bankruptcy this morning, sending its own shares plummeting 75% to 07.5 cents in early morning trading.
Word on the street was that Nortel might have trouble making an $107 million interest payment due today (January 14). Lenders have already begun lining up for payment, with $4 billion in debt outstanding, including major lenders like New York Mellon.
Nortel had already tried the kitchen sink approach, laying off 5% of its workplace and freezing new hires and bonuses. But it suffered a $3.4 billion Q3 loss and that was a ditch that the company just couldn’t climb out of.
The global economy has really hurt Nortel, as companies have decided one of the first, and most expensive, things they can do without is telecommunications equipment. Nortel had about a third of that market only as recently as 2001, but cheaper, more nimble newcomers like Alcatel-Lucent and several Pacific Rim newcomers have chomped into Nortel’s market share.
The outlook going forward isn’t optimistic. "Based on this filing, the board of directors must believe that not only is the fourth quarter bad, but that the first quarter is going to be just as bad or worse," Duncan Stewart, an analyst at DSAM Consulting in Toronto, told Reuters this morning. "Although they have cash in the short term, even the medium-term outlook is not enough to make the company viable as a going concern."
Oracle, one of the tech giants who took a big hit in trading this morning, has also announced some layoffs, but the figure is so small you have to wonder if the software maker isn’t planning any more layoffs. Only ‘several hundred” employees out of 86,000 are being shown the door, the company reports, and most of those are from the companies vast roster of independent consultants, mostly in sales from the firm’s business management software and database areas. Analysts had expected Oracle to lay off thousands – but so far, Oracle is keeping its powder dry.
Elsewhere, Yahoo has a new replacement for the departed Jerry Yang and, from early reviews, she’s a real straight shooter. New CEO Carol Bartz in a conference call Tuesday with Wall Street analysts and reporters, was fairly blunt. “We will be outward looking and kick some butt," she said, but also asking for some friggin' breathing room" before it can address its plummeting stock performance over the past year (Yahoo is trading at around $12 per share, down significantly from its high-$30 levels early in 2008.
Bartz said she’s committed to turning the company around, and that Yahoo stock represents a “tremendous opportunity” to shareholders. “It's going to be challenging. (But) I would not be here if I didn't think these objectives are achievable. I would not have taken the job”.
She also criticized investors who castigated Yahoo over passing up a $47 billion takeover offer by Microsoft – a move that set the table for Yahoo’s stock slide, and Yang’s departure.
"I feel that Yahoo has unfortunately been battered this past year," a defiant Bartz said. "That's nonsense."
Bartz was reportedly the only choice of the Yahoo board. Yahoo stock is up 5% recently, so it looks like she will get some breathing room after all. Bartz – and Yahoo – are going to need it.