|By Marketwired .||
|January 4, 2013 09:35 AM EST||
NEW YORK, NY -- (Marketwire) -- 01/04/13 -- The communication equipment industry looks poised for a bounceback year as several factors begin to align in its favor. Increased mobile data volumes, better capital spending outlooks, an improved macroeconomic environment and ongoing restructuring efforts are a few of the reasons why investors are taking a closer look at the industry now. Macroeconomic uncertainty, challenging pricing conditions, fluctuating demand and strong competition will still act as headwinds but do not appear sufficient to stall the industry's momentum.
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Surging mobile data demand will likely be a key driver for growth for communication equipment providers in 2013. The increase in data usage appears primarily as a result of better tablet device sales as well as smartphone penetration crossing over the 60% threshold in major global markets. As data volumes expand, telecommunication providers respond by ramping up their capital expenditures on equipment upgrades, overhauls and capability increases. It will be most interesting to see how much demand will stem from the tablet space. Unlike smartphone owners, tablet users are far less compelled to purchase set data plans but are often more likely to latch onto nearby wireless hotspots. Still, companies like Alcatel-Lucent S.A (NASDAQ: ALU) and Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC), that operate at all levels of the wireless market, should still be able to capitalize on increased data demand from tablets as well as phones.
The growing cloud market is a further reflection of greater data demand. The cloud market is getting increasingly crowded and competitive though. As competition mounts, a greater premium has been placed on value and innovation. Alcatel-Lucent will be showcasing a dozen new cloud-based service concepts at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), raising optimism that it may become a stronger player in the space. Much of Alcatel-Lucent's competition will come from Ericsson which operates in similar markets. Like Alcatel, Ericsson is at the forefront of innovation and also has a strong presence at this year's CES. Ericsson's hetnet solution is a particularly imposing threat to other industry players and its success will be worth tracking this year for investors in the communications equipment industry.
Companies are also efficiently adjusting after a challenging environment throughout much of 2012. The latest moves from Alcatel-Lucent illustrate the positive effect restructuring, paying down debt and divesting non-essential assets can have on the investing public. Optimism for the telecom outfit began to sway in the middle of December when it reached a refinancing agreement with Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse to the tune of $2.1 billion. The company said that it planned to put the money towards debts maturing soon and towards its restructuring efforts. The company has also done an admirable job of shedding non-core assets to improve margins and efficiency. If it can successfully sell off its underwater cable-laying vessels, margins may improve even more. It will certainly still face challenges in the near-term but the company has certainly laid the groundwork to perform well this year considering current economic conditions.
Uneven demand in the U.S., weak economic growth in Europe and a slowdown in China will be some of the biggest of these challenges. Weak economic growth in Europe will especially affect France-based Alcatel and Sweden-headquartered Ericsson. Fortunately, both companies have considerable global operations that appear capable of offsetting domestic economic weakness.
Moving forward, communication equipment providers' prospects have definitely brightened in recent weeks but significant gains may still be challenging. Investors will want to look closely at companies improving operating efficiency while still focusing on innovation and staving off competitive threats. No indications of a slowing of mobile data demand will likely be the biggest growth proponent for the industry. If macroeconomic conditions improve in China and Europe while stabilizing in the U.S., even further gains may be within reach.
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Michael Thomas Smith
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