Ericsson suffered a 9% slump in revenues during the first quarter of 2014 as major 4G network rollout projects in the US and Japan tailed off, but the vendor's management highlighted improving margins, and said sales will pick up later this year. (See Ericsson Reports Q1.)
CEO Hans Vestberg and CFO Jan Frykhammar also stuck to their oft-repeated analysis of business trends -- major network rollouts deliver higher revenues and lower margins, which are then followed by lower revenues and higher margins as operators add capacity -- and stressed that Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC)'s portfolio of mobile broadband infrastructure, video-related systems, OSS/BSS assets, and large services division is well suited to the long-term needs of communications service providers.
But it's the numbers that investors react to, and the 9% year-on-year dip in revenues to 47.5 billion Swedish kronor (US$7.24 billion) sent Ericsson's share price down by 4.5% to SEK82.35 in morning trading on the Stockholm exchange.
The numbers, though disappointing, do conform to the trends highlighted at the end of 2013 and are in line with the consistent story told by management, as gross and operating margins improved during the first quarter. (See Ericsson Flatlines in 2013, Trails Huawei.)
Table 1: Ericsson Q1 2014 Key Financials
|In SEK billions||Q1 2014||Q1 2013||Change||Q4 2013||Change|
|- Of which Networks||24.4||28.1||-13%||34.8||-30%|
|- Of which Global Services||20.4||21.5||-5%||27.2||-25%|
|- Of which Support Solutions||2.8||2.4||13%||5.1||-46%|
|Gross margin||36.5%||32.0%||Increase of 4.5 percentage points||37.1%||Decrease of 0.6 percentage points|
|Operating margin||5.5%||4.0%||Increase of 1.5 percentage points||13.5%||Decrease of 8.0 percentage points|
CEO Vestberg also noted that, as a result of new network rollout contracts won by Ericsson (some announced, some not), revenues would improve during the second half of 2014, but this would probably result in lower margins.
Some of that growth is likely to be coming from Europe, where Ericsson has been awarded a significant deal as part of Vodafone's Project Spring program. (See Euronews: Ericsson Lands 'Project Spring' Deal.)
China is also a very active market currently, as the country's three main operators continue to build out their 3G and 4G networks. Ericsson noted that its revenues from China rose by 46% year-on-year during the first quarter, but that was from a very low base last year.
The company's main message to the market is that it believes it is well placed to be "very relevant" to the market for the long term, given its focus on mobile broadband, video systems, OSS/BSS, routers, and smartphone modems. (See Ericsson Bags Azuki Systems.)
That portfolio, along with the company's R&D work in SDN and NFV, is in line with what network operators are looking for, said Vestberg. The CEO said that in his conversations with customers, the main topics they talk about are: network performance, and the need to optimize for data traffic, which plays to Ericsson's Service Provider Information Technology (SPIT) assets; the potential of SDN and NFV to improve service creation and delivery and reduce operating costs; and the need to manage and deliver video traffic efficiently across multiple platforms to multiple devices. (See Ericsson Broadcasts its TV Anywhere Message, Ericsson Commits to OpenStack With Mirantis , and Ericsson CTO Bangs SDN Drum.)
He pointed to Ericsson's inclusion in AT&T's Domain 2.0 project, boasting of the company's presence as the only major equipment vendor involved in the carrier's plan to revamp its network around SDN and NFV. (See AT&T's Cloud Future Takes Shape.)
Vestberg also said that Ericsson is now involved in "all major OSS/BSS transformations," a major step forward from a year ago. The business impact of such engagements, though, is slower and less dramatic than the radio access network (RAN) deals that drive the majority of Ericsson's sales. The OSS and BSS projects "take a long time… these are major IT projects," noted Vestberg. "These will be big in the industry," he added, and have a positive impact on the professional services part of the vendor's business. (See CenturyLink, Ericsson Leverage Legacy for Agile IT.)
By "big," though, Vestberg does not mean such deals will generate RAN-type revenue streams: The greater value for Ericsson, beyond services and software sales, is the deeper relationship with carriers that such engagements deliver. That's hard to show on a spreadsheet, though, so Vestberg and Frykhammar will need to press home the overall value story of Ericsson's broad portfolio play at every opportunity to win the confidence of investors who feel more comfortable with numbers and statistics.
— Ray Le Maistre, , Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading