Business Briefing

John Chen: ‘I thought the world would be better off with a strong BlackBerry’

The Globe and Mail

These are stories Report on Business is following Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014.

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Chen on BlackBerry
John Chen believes BlackBerry Ltd. may be a “fixable thing,” so he jumped at the chance to take the top job at the embattled smartphone maker.

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“I thought the world would be better off with a strong BlackBerry,” Mr. Chen tells Forbes.

“You know, the company has 44,000 patents. And I thought it might be a fixable thing. It will be a difficult challenge, but if it were going to be easy, why do it?”

Mr. Chen was hired to replace Thorsten Heins, who left the company after it abandoned a takeover deal and the launch of its new models flopped.

Mr. Chen tells Forbes, however, that it’s “not all about volume,” and he pointed specifically to the BlackBerry keyboard as a leg up.

“You have CEOs of major companies who whip out their BlackBerrys because of the keyboard,” he says.

“They don’t care about apps. And, by the way, from a security point of view I’m starting to worry about where these apps are actually coming from.”

There’s also the issue of security, for which BlackBerry has a sterling reputation.

“I have two companies in Europe now that have reversed their policies on letting people bring their own devices to work,” Mr. Chen says.

“It presents too much of a security risk. After Angela Merkel was hacked she moved straight to a BlackBerry.”

Comcast in deal for Time Warner Cable
America’s two biggest cable companies are tying the knot.

Comcast Corp. today struck a deal, valued at $45.2-billion (U.S.) to acquire Time Warner Cable, an agreement the companies say will save $1.5-billion in operating expenses.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable valued the all-stock deal at $158.82 a share, 2.875 Comcast shares for each of Time Warner Cable’s.

As The Globe and Mail's Joanna Slater reports, Comcast, already the biggest in the U.S., has sealed its position as the powerhouse, also owning NBC Universal.

Barrick cuts reserves, posts loss
Shares of Barrick Gold Corp. are on the rise in premarket action after the Canadian miner posted a hefty loss and cut its reserves by a quarter.

As The Globe and Mail’s Rachelle Younglai reports, Barrick today took $2.8-billion (U.S.) in impairment charges on its mines, including its troubled Pascua Lama project, as it adjusts to a weaker price for gold.

Barrick posted a fourth-quarter loss of $2.83-billion or $2.61 a share, compared to the loss of $3-billion or $30.1-billion a year earlier.

In for a penny …
Mel Gibson’s William Wallace wouldn’t care what Longshanks had to say about a currency union.

But the modern-day Scots might.

Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, turned up the heat on the Scottish independence movement today, warning Scotland it can’t have the pound if it votes to leave the U.K.

“The pound isn’t an asset to be divided up between the two countries after break-up as if it were a CD collection,” he said in a speech in Edinburgh.

“If Scotland walks away from the U.K., it walks away from the U.K. pound,” Mr. Osborne added, citing how well Scotland has done, with six straight quarters of economic growth.

Mr. Osborne then cited earlier comments by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney – I think Mr. Carney looks more like Wallace than Longshanks, but that’s just me – who gave independent advice because he’s Canadian and who raised some economic issues.

And digging the knife in even deeper (given that we’re all about Braveheart comparisons), Mr. Osborne noted that Royal Bank of Scotland would have “undergone a disorderly collapse without the support of the whole U.K. in 2008.”

Encana, Cenovus post losses
Two of Canada’s energy giants – they used to be married, by the way – both posted fourth-quarter losses today.

Encana Corp., which is in turnaround mode and called 2013 “a year of change,” posted a wider loss of $251-million, compared to $80-million a year earlier.

“The fourth quarter of 2013 was a transformational time for Encana,” said chief executive officer Doug Suttles.

“In a six-week window, we launched our new strategy, completed an organizational restructuring and announced our 2014 budget … We finished 2013 strong and we’re well positioned to deliver on our priorities and objectives in 2014 with our new strategy very much under way.”

Cenovus Energy Inc., which was spun out from Encana, narrowed its loss to $58-million, or 8 cents a share, from $117-million or 15 cents, and noted its oil sands production surged 14 per cent last year.

“We had another year of solid reserves and production growth as well as strong performance from our refining business,” said chief executive officer Brian Ferguson.

Telus unveils higher targets
Telus Corp. is looking for earnings per share of between $2.25 and $2.45 this year, which would mark an increase of up to 21 per cent from 2013.

The Canadian phone company unveiled its 2014 targets today, calling for revenue growth of up to 6 per cent to $11.9-billion and $12.1-billion.

It’s also seeking an increase in wireless revenue up to 7 per cent, or about $6-billion.

Telus also posted a fourth-quarter profit of $290-million or 47 cents a share, up from $263-million or 40 cents a year earlier.

Bombardier shares sink
Bombardier Inc. won’t make its profit margin targets in 2014 as the company lowers expectations following a disappointing fourth quarter and adds about $1-billion (U.S.) to the cost of its C Series new-jet program, The Globe and Mail's Bertrand Marotte reports.

Shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange fell sharply on the news.

Senior executives said on a conference call today that development costs of about $750-million and capitalized interest in the $300-million range will have to be spent on the C Series as the company adjusts spending following a series of delays in the program.

Manulife profit climbs
Manulife Financial Corp.’s profit reached $1.3-billion, or 68 cents a share, in the fourth quarter, up from $1.1-billion or 57 cents in the same period in 2012. The company said it got a boost from its investments, and the sale of its Taiwan insurance business, The Globe and Mail's Jacqueline Nelson writes.

The company’s core earnings were $685-million in the quarter, or 35 cents a share, up from $554-million, or 28 cents. Core earnings separate Manulife’s underlying business from the direct impact of interest rates and unsteady equity markets, as well as some other material and one-time items.

“Insurance sales were slightly lower than what we would have liked, but with better margins; wealth sales were simply outstanding, driving assets under management to the 21st consecutive quarter of growth, to $599-billion,” chief executive officer Donald Guloien said in a statement.

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