Headed into a pivotal earnings report next week, Research In Motion Ltd. seems in a much better position than it has been in years.
The company’s BlackBerry 10 line of smartphones has finally been released after many delays, and appears to be meeting RIM’s expectations in the early going. In addition, the company launched its newest phone on Thursday – the mid-range Q5, intended primarily for customers in the developing world.
But even as RIM ramps up its BlackBerry 10 production and marketing, the company still appears to be generating little consensus among analysts.
To illustrate what he sees as RIM’s biggest challenge, Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin points to a note he recently received from AT&T announcing that the BlackBerry Q10 will be available on the carrier Friday – five months after the device was first announced.
“The pace at which the products are entering the markets has certainly been a cause for concern if not a disappointment,” he said. “There just seems to be some timing challenges as far as company’s ability to capitalize on investment of marketing dollars and time in building enthusiasm around new products.”
Late last week, RIM’s share price jumped after a rare two-notch upgrade from an analyst at Société Générale. The upgrade was based mostly on stronger-than-expected sales of the new BlackBerry 10 phones – the touchscreen Z10 and the keyboard-equipped Q10.
But less than a week later, RIM shares tanked after a scathing report from Pierre Ferragu of Bernstein Research, who downgraded RIM to “underperform” and said he expects the firm to disappoint in the second half of the year.
“We have numerous indications that the consumer take-up of Blackberry 10 is weak,” Mr. Ferragu said in a note to clients. “The initial enthusiasm that we observed for Blackberry 10 devices now appears to be waning.”
After starting the year with a share price around $17.70, RIM has seen its share price drop to $14.45 this week. Still, that’s significantly higher than where the stock was in the fall of last year, when RIM shares traded for as low as $6.10.
A RIM spokeswoman declined to comment for this story, as the company enters its quiet period before announcing its 2014 fiscal first-quarter earnings on June 28.
Much of RIM’s positive and negative indicators so far this year have been directly or indirectly tied to its relationship with carriers.
The delay in launching the Q10 on AT&T is likely due to RIM’s desire for so-called “hero“ status with the carrier, whereby RIM devices are given prominent marketing resources and prominent display within the carrier’s phone lineup. The same desire for hero status likely also led to similar timing issues with the launch of the Z10 earlier this year – in a rarity, the high-end phone went on sale in Canada before it arrived in the much larger U.S. market. Indeed, the Q10 has yet to show up at Sprint, another major carrier partner.
Still, Mr. Golvin points out that so far, RIM’s carrier uptake for its new line of BlackBerry 10 devices has been strong. In addition, the lower-priced Q5 is likely to prove popular with carriers in the developing world, including in traditional BlackBerry strongholds such as Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates – the latter country being where the first Q5 phone was sold on Thursday.
“If one is looking for signs of optimism, there are some out there,” Mr. Golvin said.