2013: Is This the Year Alcatel Goes Bankrupt?

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Alcatel-Lucent reported Q1 2013 earnings Friday and -- there's no sugarcoating this -- the news was not good.

Nearly a year into a much-ballyhooed program to right its ship and save its business, the company's still losing money and burning cash like mad. Four months after negotiating a financial lifeline from Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse -- bankers who, if you ask me, would be just as happy to see Alcatel fail and forfeit its patent portfolio -- the company's just piling more debt atop an already top-heavy debt load.

But enough about the big picture. Let's delve into the specifics. In Q1 2013, Alcatel:

  • Grew its revenues a bare 0.6% in comparison to Q1 2012, or ...
  • Viewed more pessimistically, saw revenues slide 21.2% sequentially.
  • Experienced gross margin slippage (0.8% worse than in last year's Q1).
  • Reported a $0.19-per-share net loss, versus the $0.15-per-share profit it earned last year.

Operating cash flow at the firm ran negative to the tune of $188 million, while cash flow from operating activities -- which Alcatel defines differently from OCF -- came to negative-$542 million. This is significant, because when you pair this operating cash burn with Alcatel's spending on capital investments, it works out to a total of $694 million in negative free cash flow for the quarter.

To put that number in context, $694 million is more cash than Alcatel burned in all of 2012 or 2011. It's nearly as much cash as the company burned through in 2010 ... and this time, the company burned all this cash in just one single quarter.

To put that number in even more context, $694 million is quite literally the most cash Alcatel has ever burned in any single quarter at any time in the past 10 years. (You actually have to go all the way back to the bad old days of the Bubble Burst -- 2001 -- to find a quarter in which Alcatel's performance was more horrendous.) And of course, thanks to all this cash burn, and all this lack of cash generation, Alcatel now officially has more debt on its books than it does cash.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch
Meanwhile, what are Alcatel's rivals up to? Well, rival Nokia is back to nearly FCF-positive now, helped in large part by three straight operating-profitable quarters at its Nokia Siemens Networks division, which competes with Alcatel. Cisco Systems ,as always, is rolling in cash and generated $10.5 billion worth of the stuff over the past year.

Which kind of makes Alcatel look like the odd man out here. I mean, I hate to say it, folks -- and I've never said it before -- but the more I look at the numbers, and how fast they're worsening, the more I begin to think:

This really could be the year that Alcatel goes bankrupt.

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The article 2013: Is This the Year Alcatel Goes Bankrupt? originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Rich Smith owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Cisco Systems, and Goldman Sachs and owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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