Ericsson holds steady despite loss on rollouts

Ericsson’s first quarter profits fell year on year to SEK1.2bn (€139m) from SEK8.8bn for the same period in 2012, largely due to the boost given to 1Q12 numbers by the firm’s exit from the Sony Ericsson device JV. While the vendor recorded a two per cent uptick in sales to SEK52bn it was hit by currency fluctuations and a disappointing performance from its network rollout business.

Sales in the Networks and Global Services units were up three and four per cent respectively, hitting SEK28.1bn and SEK 21.5bn. But Support Solutions, behind which Ericsson has been putting considerable weight in the last year, saw sales drop by 19 per cent to SEK2.4bn.

Managed and Professional Services held steady but the Global Services unit was pulled down by  the Network Rollout unit, which saw operating income drop by 73 per cent to a loss of SEK1.1bn. Ericsson CFO Jan Fryhammar described this as “nothing dramatic” and due to unforseen delays in LTE deployments, particularly in Latin America where Ericsson had “some idling resources,” he said.

Frykhammar said that, while there were positives in the top line, and in the profitability of the Networks division, he was concerned by Ericsson’s cashflow. “I will never be happy when the cashflow is negative,” he told “We have a tendency towards a strong finish on our operating cashflow but this time it was negative SEK3bn. That’s something we will work hard to improve going forward.”

North America and North East Asia remain the most important regions for Ericsson, given the advanced state of LTE deployments. Frykhammar said that one of its key North American LTE projects (presumably Verizon) had now “peaked” but that he expected high activity levels in the market to continue, shifting to capacity rather than coverage as the year goes on.

In North East Asia Ericsson’s most important upcoming project is the deployment of TD-LTE by China Mobile, although that operator’s retreat from GSM investment impacted on Ericsson’s first quarter, Frykhammar said.

While Ericsson’s core business will remain the provision of equipment and services to the world’s telecoms operators long into the future, the firm is looking to other sectors as operators endure turbulent times. Frykahmmar pointed towards contracts with shipping giant Maersk and energy supplier Eon as examples of important diversification, as well as its growing business in the media segment.

But the firm wants direct relationships with customers and, in pursuing them, could find itself at times in competition with its core customer base. “We will expand into other customer bases,” said Fryhammar. “We want to do direct business, though; we don’t do indirect sales.”

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