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Lucent Dip Drives Speculation

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading

Lucent Technologies Inc.'s (NYSE: LU) collapse appears to have brought out the bargain hunters.

Last week, as reported in Light Reading, a number of stock analysts started to sniff around Lucent like college students at a used book store (see Analysts to Investors: "Buy Lucent" ): Interesting stock. Beaten up. Needs a new binding. But inside, it's got some value.

This week, the price of Lucent has popped from a low of about $14 to $20. Wednesday, the question was whether larger companies such as Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA) and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) might be just as interested in such bargain hunting, as acquisition speculation circulated across trading floors and was reported by the major wire services.

But a range of experts, interviewed by Light Reading on Wednesday, were skeptical of such talk, and they said the rumors were likely driven by Lucent's depressed share price.

If Nokia were interested in Lucent, for example, it would probably only be interested in Lucent's wireless base-station business, not the entire company, said one source close to Lucent. The idea of a Finnish wireless company buying New Jersey's most dysfunctional data-networking infrastrucutre Goliath did not strike many people as likely.

Maybe the French? Alcatel surfaced as a potential buyer, according to several reports. In the Alcatel case, it would be a merger of equals, because both Lucent and Alcatel trade on the NYSE with valuations in the $55 billion to $60 billion range.

"Why would Lucent do that?" asked Seth Spalding, director at Epoch Partners, of a scenario in which either Nokia or Alcatel would attempt to buy the company. "The underlying busines still has a huge revenue stream. Valuation-wise, Lucent should be able to sell for at least $40 per share. Nokia stock would get completely whacked."

Some observers were downright cynical about Lucent's continuing management woes, pointing out that any acquisitor would be hard put to unravel the troubles.

"If you look at companies that are more likely to buy mismanaged companies, Alcatel is more likely than Nokia," said one fund manager who asked not to be identified. "Look at what they did with Newbridge." Conclusion? Acquisition rumors point to the fact that Lucent's stock price may have begun the bottoming process, and that's about it.

-- R. Scott Raynovich, executive editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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