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Wall Street Beat: Tech starts off season on mildly upbeat note

Marc Ferranti | Sept. 9, 2013
Big deals mark the tech landscape as the mobile market grabs the spotlight.

With the U.S. Labor Day holiday marking the unofficial end of summer on the markets, tech stocks got off to a fairly positive start in the new season as several major deals and the mobile phone market came under especially intense scrutiny.

Major exchanges and market indexes were mixed Friday in the wake of a tepid government jobs report. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 14,922.50, down by 14.98 points, while the Standard and Poor's 500 index and the tech-heavy Nasdaq both closed up slightly higher for the day.

The Dow, the S&P and the Nasdaq were all in positive territory for the week, however. The Nasdaq Computer Index of more than 100 tech-related stocks closed Friday at 1755.4, up by 3.82 for the day and also in positive territory for the week.

Tech stocks were among the most heavily traded shares Friday, with Microsoft and Nokia in the top five volume leaders of the day. This is not surprising, given the announcement Tuesday that Microsoft will buy the Finnish company's mobile phone business. Microsoft will pay €3.79 billion (US$5 billion) for Nokia's Devices & Services business and €1.65 billion to license Nokia's patents.

Some analysts said that the deal is a necessary risk for Microsoft, which counts Nokia as its only major ally in the mobile OS battle against Google's Android and Apple iOS. Microsoft's mobile OS market share number is foundering in the single digits, and it may need the acquisition to assure that a major manufacturer will continue to produce Windows-based phones.

But the market appears to be sour on the deal, which pairs two tech giants that are so far on the losing side in the mobile market. Nokia shares, which at first jumped on the news, closed Friday at $5.37, down by $0.12. Microsoft shares dropped $1.55 on the news Tuesday, closing at $31.20, and drifted down during the week to end up at $31.15.

Many parts of Microsoft's broad product portfolio are doing well, but it's not a stretch to say that future success rests in large part on how well it does in the mobile market. "Never have as many mobile phones been sold worldwide as in the first half of 2013," according to a report from market research firm GfK this week.

"In the period January to June 2013, global demand for smartphones rose by 66 percent compared with the same period in the previous year," the report said. "Of all mobile end devices sold, 59 percent are smartphones."

Meanwhile, erstwhile smartphone leader BlackBerry wants to proceed as quickly as possible with a plan to sell the company in an auction process that could end by November, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal that cited sources close to the company. The company announced in August that it had formed a committee to explore "strategic alternatives."


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