It’s been three months since Motorola split into two companies ––spinning off its brand-name mobile products into a new stock called Motorola Mobility (NYSE:MMI) and keeping the rest of the operations under the old company, which was renamed Motorola Solutions (NYSE:MSI).
Motorola has a storied history that goes back before the 1929 stock market crash. Its car radios and walkie-talkies are prop staples of old TV shows and World War II movies, and the Razr phone was the must-have mobile device five long years ago. Then came the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone.
Since then, Motorola has struggled to right itself, deciding the task would be easier if Motorola Mobile, the consumer business which also includes products like set-top boxes, was split off from the rest of the company. Investors in the parent, Motorola Inc., received shares in both of the new companies.
Following the Jan. 4 separation, Motorola Mobility has grabbed most the headlines. It launched Xoom, a tablet powered by Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android software that some believed could give the iPad a run for its money. The Droid smartphones, also produced by the company, have been among the best selling models of Android phones to date.
The nonconsumer business company, meanwhile, tended to businesses like bar-code scanners, cell networks, RFID products, wireless broadband networks and two-way radios, mostly purchased by companies and governments. Most were unglamorous products that failed to register on the media’s radar.
Judging from Google News citations, Motorola Mobility has hogged the spotlight since the spinoff.
But an interesting thing has happened. In spite of all that attention, boring old Motorola Solutions has won much more attention from investors — if attention is to be measured in stock appreciation. Motorola Solutions has risen 10% since the spinoff, while Motorola Mobility has lost 27% of its value. The S&P 500, by comparison, is up 4%.
In the fourth quarter of 2010, the first quarterly earnings reported after the mobile spinoff, both companies reported rising revenue and operating profits. Motorola Solutions saw revenue rise by 13% to $2.2 billion and operating profit rise to $279 million from $250 million. Operating profit margin edged down to 12.4% from 12.6%, although margins for all of 2010 rose to 9.9% from 7.9% in 2009.
Motorola Mobility, meanwhile, saw revenue rise 21% to $3.4 billion. It posted an operating profit of $126 million, or 3.7% of revenue, compared with an operating loss of $196 million in the year-ago quarter.
Those figures have induced a sentiment split among analysts as well. According to Thomson/First Call, 17 analysts have a buy or strong buy recommendation for Motorola Solutions, while 13 have a hold rating on the stock and five have negative ratings. The enthusiasm is not a strong one for Motorola Mobility: Four have buy ratings, 17 have hold ratings and one has a sell rating.
What’s going on? Motorola Mobility needed Xoom to be a big hit early on, to strengthen its brand in the tablet market before other Android tablets come flooding in. In smartphones, Motorola is beginning to see Android rivals eat into its share. Motorola’s share of mobile subscribers dropped to 16.1% of the market in February from 17% three months earlier, ComScore said earlier this month.
The mobile company has also been weighted down with concerns about its future prospects – again, in large part due to Apple. Only about 100,000 Xoom tablets have sold, investment bank Deutsche Bank reckoned last week. Others are expecting Apple to sell 2.5 million iPad 2s in March.
Motorola Solutions, meanwhile, is expected to see fairly steady demand for its not-so-glamorous products. Governments may be cutting back on budgets, but many of Motorola Solutions’ products are needed by first-responders and are less likely to be skimped on.
Other products, like mobile and networking equipment, will remain in demand as the mobile industry grows, albeit in a less prominent way than smartphone handsets.
Motorola Mobility has plenty of chances to improve its standing in smartphones, tablets and Internet-TVs — all markets where fortunes can turn in a few months. Things aren’t so chaotic in Motorola Solutions’ markets, where growth is slower but potentially steadier.
A few months into Motorola’s breakup, investors seem to be warming more toward slow, steady and not-so-glamorous. That bodes well for Motorola Solutions. As for Motorola Mobility, it’s likely to become by far the more volatile stock of the two.