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Visitors inspect Blackberry mobile phones at their booth at the CeBit computer fair in Hanover, March, 6, 2012. The biggest fair of its kind open its doors to the public on March 6 and will run to March 10, 2012. (FABRIZIO BENSCH/Fabrizio Bensch/REUTERS)
Visitors inspect Blackberry mobile phones at their booth at the CeBit computer fair in Hanover, March, 6, 2012. The biggest fair of its kind open its doors to the public on March 6 and will run to March 10, 2012. (FABRIZIO BENSCH/Fabrizio Bensch/REUTERS)

Tech

Are BlackBerry sales weaker than thought? Add to ...

Research In Motion Ltd. is likely to miss guidance when it reports its quarterly earnings on March 29, according to a prominent technology industry analyst.

Bernstein Research analyst Pierre Ferragu expects RIM to report that it sold around 11 million BlackBerrys, which is within the low range of its guidance of between 11 million and 12 million units. In the third quarter, RIM shipped 14.1 million BlackBerrys, and Jefferies analyst Peter Misek expects RIM sold only 10.5-million units in the fourth quarter.

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Mr. Ferragu also said in a note to clients that RIM is likely to report $4.3-billion in revenues as opposed to the nearly $5-billion the Waterloo, Ont.-based smartphone giant had previously suggested to the market. He also expects earnings per share of about $0.72 (U.S.), about 10 per cent below the low range of RIM’s guidance.

RIM, which has missed guidance numerous times before, underwent a management shakeup in January when co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie stepped down and former chief operating officer Thorsten Heins took over as CEO. The new CEO has vowed to ramp up marketing efforts and international expansion but has largely stuck to the previous leadership team's plan of betting a platform revival on the next-generation BlackBerry 10 devices that are due out later this year, which run on the QNX software RIM acquired in 2010.

In the meantime, Mr. Ferragu, who sees the risks of a takeover increasing, recommends that investors either short or stay away from the stock, given the volatility that could accompany yet another earnings miss.

“With the very disappointing strategic directions new management took, we recognize that remaining short on RIM is tempting,” Mr. Ferragu writes. “We think the company will continue to lose traction until it showcases its next generation of products based on QNX, and the latter is very unlikely to generate renewed consumer traction.”

RIM has lost significant market share in the United States over the past year, accounting for only 6.6 per cent of new mobile subscribers in the quarter ending in late January, according to research firm comScore. But even though RIM has grown steadily overseas in emerging markets where many are buying their first smartphone, the company's shrinkage in the U.S. – and the accompanying damage to the brand of seeming to fail in the world's most influential smartphone market – has hurt the company's reputation.

The new BlackBerry 10 devices will run a similar version of the software that now runs on RIM's PlayBook tablet. There are some early signs that heavy discounting of the device has boosted sales in Canada and in markets such as India, but a much-needed software update came just weeks before Apple Inc. unveiled a new version of its wildly popular iPad, which dominates the tablet space.

Mr. Ferragu's note to clients is simply one among the many bearish notes on RIM that have come out in recent weeks. Recently Toronto-based Sameet Kanade of Northern Securities – which is run by an activist shareholder who has advocated that RIM's executives sell off parts of the company – said in a research note that RIM's core wireless carrier customers were becoming more “averse” to paying the monthly per-device fees that constitute nearly one-fifth of RIM's revenues. Also in early March, Mr. Misek of Jefferies said there is a “greater than 50 per cent chance” that RIM will pre-report negative earnings results and warned that, more importantly, RIM's international growth seemed to be slowing.

Follow on Twitter: @iainmarlow

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