Most people are challenged by the math of Google’s (GOOG) jettisoning Motorola Mobility to Lenovo for $2.9B (it bought it in 2012 $12B). There are lots of melodramatic reactions to the news, but the deal remains one of Google’s great strategic moves — it’s not just about the raw math.
The deal was designed to boost Android adoption and acquire patents. I’m pretty sure Google planned to sell Motorola Mobility all along. And it doesn’t care that it booked a loss of a few billion dollars.
Proof of this is that the market doesn’t see it as a bad thing — Google shares are up 3% this morning. And Google shares have tripled since Google bought Motorola Mobility in 2012. So why the headlines screaming “Google Takes Huge Loss on Motorola Deal” ?
Do you really think Google investors and executives are crying on their private jets?
First of all: Let’s go through the remedial math: The “loss” is not as bad as people think. It paid $12 billion. Google got $3 billion in cash when it bought Motorola Mobility, as well as the patent portfolio, which are probably worth about $3 billion, according to many estimates. It’s selling it for $3 billion. It flipped Motorola Home to Arris for $2.3 billion.
So, to start, we have $12.5 billion minus $9 billion minus $2.3 billion, making the loss about $1 billion or so. Google was losing about $900 million on the business anyway, so it made sense to unload it.
A $1B or so loss on the deal is pocket change for Google. But what about the other value it extracted? I think there was tons of strategic value it in the deal. The market figured this out over year ago, as Google earnings have exploded and the stock has doubled.
Google will keep most of the patents, accoding to the press release. That means they own the license rights, and they can keep a licensing revenue stream.
In 2012, the knee-jerk Wall St. reaction in 2012, when shares initially plunged on the deal, was worry that Google would become a low-margin hardware vendor. Wall St. hated that. In the summer of 2012, Google shares pulled back from over $600 to about $550. Google shares now trade at $1,131 — they have almost doubled since then! So anybody that says this deal was a disaster is either lying or simply doesn’t understand the situation.
But as Google’s earnings grew and Android continued to grow, Wall St. got over this quickly. Obviously Google had a plan all along, and the market started to undestand this and the shares started climbing. I would argue that if Google had the opportunity, it would do the deal again. It probably views the writeoff — which will likely be several billion, was an investment in Android. $1 billion is a pretty good “investment” for Google, which has quarterly cash flow of about $12 billion.
Here are the elements of the deal that make its strategic value more important than just the dollar values:
Remember, Google is an analytics and data company. It’s main goal is to get you to consume and exchange data, so that they have more data to analyze. That’s how it creates enormous value. The Motorola Mobility deal was never about becoming a manufacturer of mobile devices, it was about acquiring a mechanism to boost Android, Apps, and the use of data on a Google platform.
So, if you were Google, would you do the deal again? I probably would. And I bet Google believes this, too.