On Friday, BlackBerry Ltd. issued a grim set of third-quarter results, with revenue of just $1.2-billion and losses of $4.4-billion, mostly due to writedowns of assets and inventory. But the stock went up 16 per cent as new chief executive officer John Chen unveiled his plans for the business, including a deal to offload much of the risk of making smartphones to Foxconn Technology Group. While the company issued a release, held a conference call and hosted a roundtable interview with journalists, there were more revelations buried in documents filed with regulators late Friday:
Christmas came early – from the taxman: As BlackBerry was (unsuccessfully) trying to find a buyer during the third quarter, it was also pressing the governments of Ontario and Canada to accelerate a portion of the huge tax refund it expects to earn for the year, the regulatory filings show. After earning assurances from the federal and Ontario finance ministers that it could do so, the company was able to change its taxation year-end to Nov. 3, “which triggered the entitlement to the accrued tax refund ... of $696-million (U.S.).” It received the money by the end of November.
While the company said it ended the quarter on Nov. 30 with $3.2-billion in cash and equivalents, more than half of that came in the door last month, from the tax refund and the $1-billion raised in a convertible debenture financing after the auction ended with no deal. Without those two big wads of cash, the company would have ended the quarter with $1.5-billion in cash, down $1.1-billion since the end of the second quarter.
Come in, enterprise: According to Mr. Chen, the company’s business of managing fleets of smartphones for corporate and government customers is its top priority going forward. It has a long way to go. The company now has more than 80,000 enterprise customers, down from more than 250,000 at its peak due to intense competition from upstart device management firms.
Mr. Chen made a big deal of the fact that 30,000 customers now have now installed “commercial and test servers” using its new BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) 10 operating system, replacing older servers such as the BES 5 that its clients had installed years earlier. That’s up from 25,000 in September. But just how many of those installations are here to stay? Buried in its third-quarter financial statements, the company revealed for the first time that it has provided its customers “with free upgrades and free trial arrangements until the end of this calendar year” since launching the BES 10. “No material revenue has yet been recognized from BES 10 but the company expects to see gradual revenue contributions beginning in fiscal 2015.” Translation: those 30,000 enterprise users on the new system aren’t paying for it yet.
No, Canada? Remember the fuss in October when Rogers Communications confirmed it wouldn’t be stocking the new BlackBerry Z30 – a decision it quickly reversed? That outcry does not necessarily mean Canadians are still loyal to their home-grown smartphone company. BlackBerry’s revenue in the third quarter in Canada was just $72-million, down 21 per cent from the second quarter and down 43.3 per cent from the same period a year earlier.
Then again, that year-over-year drop is relatively light compared to other territories. In Latin America, for example, revenue was down close to 75 per cent year over year.
Scientists for hire: BlackBerry is in the midst of a severe downsizing of 40 per cent of its work force. Research and development jobs are not being spared: the company revealed that its R&D-related “headcount decreased by approximately 24 per cent” from the same period a year earlier. That will no doubt decrease further as the company’s belt-tightening continues into next spring.
But business is good…for John Chen: Investors liked what they heard, driving up the stock by 97 cents per share on Nasdaq on Friday. The same day, the company filed a registration statement confirming Mr. Chen has been granted units that will convert into 13 million shares once they have vested. Based on Friday’s stock performance, he ended the day $12.6-million richer, at least on paper.