Nokia offers optimistic forecast

July 17, 2008, 5:02 PM UTC

By Scott Moritz

Delivering its second-quarter earnings Thursday, Nokia (NOK) offered a glimmer of optimism in an otherwise gloomy outlook for the tech market by raising its growth forecast ever so slightly.

Fueled by roaring sales in the rapidly developing so-called BRIC regions – Brazil, Russia, India and China – Nokia adjusted its worldwide mobile phone sales target to 10% or more growth this year from a more squishy “approximately 10%” level.

Nokia posted a 61 percent drop in second-quarter profit from a year ago to $1.75 billion due to 2007 gains on a joint venture. The adjusted second quarter profit was 58 cents per share, up from 43 cents a year ago and above the 56 cents analysts were expecting. Sales were $20.7 billion, up from $16.9 billion in the year-ago quarter and better than the $20 billion Wall Street expected.

The company sold 122 million phones in the second quarter for an average price of $117 each. Analysts had expected about Nokia to sell about 120 million phones at a $120 a piece.

The stock market cheered Nokia’s second quarter results, sending the stock up 7%, as anxiety eased briefly over the waning growth in wireless. Analysts gave the company high marks for delivering solid numbers despite carrying a stale product line up and broadening economic slowdown. If growth continues in theBRIC regions and some of Nokia’s new phones take off, the thinking is that Nokia will come out shining in a year where the rest of tech has been a wreck.

The Finnish phone giant, which holds about 40% of the total wireless phone market, has been able to avoid the economic fallout from the bust of the mortgage boom in Europe largely by pedaling lower-priced phones in hot new wireless markets.

On a conference call with analysts Thursday, Nokia executives pointed to countries like India, where the company had its “best period ever” as new phone buyers were signing up at a rate of seven million a month. The surge in India helped offset a slight cooling in China, where sales fell 16% from the first quarter level.

The executives also said they saw strong competition in the smartphone market in the second quarter. Nokia was caught flatfooted as it had few new phones to compete with Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone or the international expansion of Research in Motion’s (RIMM) BlackBerry. But looking ahead, Nokia says it expects to launch ten new smartphones in the coming months to help revive its high-end lineup. And despite seeing no improvement in Europe and only a one percentage point gain to 5% market share in the United States, Nokia was upbeat about its prospects for the remainder of 2008.

“We have good confidence as we look out here to the end of the year,” CFO Rick Simonson said on the call.

It also doesn’t hurt that Nokia has watched Motorola (MOT), once its top competitor,  hit the rocks.