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Blackmail, other conspiracy theories surround Microsoft's deal with Nokia

Two analysts point to financial data to claim that Microsoft was blackmailed into buying Nokia.

It didn't take long for the conspiracy theories to show up regarding Microsoft's $7.17 billion purchase of Nokia's hardware and licensing of assets, not the least of which asserts that Microsoft was blackmailed into the deal.

Two analysts say that the real reason for the deal was that Nokia was soon going give up the ghost on manufacturing Windows Phones, and without Nokia, Microsoft would be dead in the water.

The first person to weigh in is Ben Thompson, who called the acquisition “a deal that makes no sense."

"I theorize that Nokia was either going to switch to Android or was on the verge of going bankrupt. (I suspect the latter: part of the deal included €1.5 billion in financing available to Nokia immediately, and the fact Microsoft had to take Asha but not the brand or maps suggests they were trying to keep the price as low as possible),” Thompson wrote. “And, had Nokia abandoned Windows Phone, then Windows Phone would be dead."

Thompson clearly doesn't like WP and thinks Microsoft should jettison it, so it goes without saying he does not like this deal. The investors on Seeking Alpha are also going bonkers in their opposition (see stories 1,2,3,4,5).

Benedict Evans, an independent analyst in the UK who follows the telcos, added some meat to the conspiracy theory:

"...the acquisition solves Nokia's problem (running out of cash) and hence is a tactical move by Microsoft: it prevents the only significant Windows Phone OEM from exiting the market. It is possible that Nokia threatened to switch to Android otherwise (the relevant contracts are getting close to renewal), rather as Motorola threatened to sue other Android OEMs before Google bought it."

It's a tough call to say Nokia was running out of cash. It ended fiscal 2012 with €8.9 billion in cash and short-term investments, although that was down by six billion from the prior fiscal year. Still, Thompson notes that part of the deal with Microsoft makes €1.5 billion in financing available to Nokia immediately.

Still, threatening to abandon Windows Phone for Android would have been a huge game of chicken on Nokia's part. It would need some time to migrate from the lame duck operating system, during which sales would plummet, and it would enter a market that, despite Samsung's dominance, is very competitive. HTC is hanging in there with the One, and Motorola is reinvigorated with its new Moto phones.

So jumping to Android would be no guarantee for Nokia. But it undeniably would have hosed Microsoft. Figures from AdDuplex show that Nokia has 87% of Windows Phone 8 market share worldwide, with HTC at 10%, Samsung at 2%, and Huawei at 1%.

One thing is for certain: this will feed conspiracy theories that Stephen Elop was put in place to run the company into the ground and sell it to Microsoft on the cheap. Now there's talk that the deal clears the way for him to return to Microsoft and become the front-runner for the CEO job. I would not be surprised at all if the Finns smell a rat and put the kibosh on this deal. This company was a source of national pride. I have to think there are some very upset people in Helsinki, Espoo and elsewhere right now.

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