By Matti Huuhtanen
HELSINKI — Nokia shareholders have overwhelmingly approved the sale of the ailing cellphone division and a portfolio of patents and services to Microsoft Corp. for 5.4 billion euros ($7.2 billion).
The vote came at the end of a five-hour extraordinary meeting of shareholders on Tuesday called by the Finnish phone maker that has seen its global market share shrink as it battles stiff competition from Apple and Google Inc. in the lucrative smartphone trade.
The approval, representing 99.5 percent of shares owned by 3,900 voters at the meeting, had been widely expected as Nokia’s stock price has more than doubled since the September announcement of the deal. On Tuesday, however, it closed down 3 percent at 5.82 euros on the Helsinki Stock Exchange.
Shareholders braved cold, November rain in the Finnish capital to attend the much-anticipated meeting.
Hannu Ryyppo, a retired shareholder said he was pleased by the result after watching the gradual decline of the company. “Now it feels good again. This is a really good result,” Ryyppo said. “It’s a new beginning for Nokia.”
Chairman Risto Siilasmaa said he was aware that the sale “would raise deep feelings” among Finns for whom Nokia was a symbol of the small Nordic country’s success. But, he added, it was the best deal for the company and the best offer for the loss-making devices unit.
Following the sale, which is expected to complete in early 2014, Nokia will be known as Nokia Solutions and Networks and will be focusing its resources on providing technology used by mobile devices for the transfer of data, including phone calls, video and connecting to the Internet.
The sale brings to an end Nokia’s serial attempts to revive its handset sales, which continued to plunge in the third quarter with a net loss of 91 million euros. Although that was an improvement from the 969 million euros loss a year earlier, revenue dropped more than 20 percent to 5.6 billion euros in the quarter.
Finns have watched in despair as the company, named after the southern town of Nokia where it was founded in 1865, faltered — from both top-end iPhones and Samsung handsets using Google’s popular Android software, and cheaper manufacturers in China and Asia.
Nokia’s fall from grace has been blamed on its tardiness to gauge trends and to meet challenges. Although it had developed a touchscreen model well before the iPhone took the market by storm in 2007, it hadn’t recognized the potential of the technology which is now standard on smartphones and other mobile devices.