As BlackBerry Ltd. CEO John Chen prepares to unveil his strategy for winning back enterprise customers Thursday, it appears he's already satisfied two sets of shareholders: Hedge funds and long-term institutional investors.
The hedgies appear to have profited handsomely by betting the company's turmoil of a year ago was not immediately life-threatening, and that its stock would rebound from multi-year lows. Regulatory filings show that, amid the company's scotched sale process and the arrival of Mr. Chen – an accomplished turnaround specialist – several big name hedge funds piled into the stock last fall and winter, buying millions of shares a piece. Buyers included Steve Cohen's SAC Capital Advisors (now known as Point72 Asset Management) activist manager Dan Loeb's Third Point, the U.K.'s David Leone & Partners, Josh Resnick's Jericho Capital Advisors, D. E Shaw & Co and Keywise Capital Management Ltd. of Hong Kong.
Almost as quickly as the hedgies jumped in, many jumped out again. Third Point went from zero BlackBerry shares on Sept 30, 2013 to 10 million three months later, to zero again three months after that. Mr. Cohen's personal hedge fund likewise quickly amassed an 11.2-million share stake in the first three months of 2014, only to blow it out by June 30. Other hedge funds similarly either liquidated or substantially reduced their holdings this year. Though none would respond to requests for comment, it's not hard to imagine this was a profitable venture. An unleveraged short-term bet in BlackBerry stock could have easily returned between 20 per cent and 40 per cent for those who got in and out at the right time.
SOURCE: Thomson Reuters
While the hedge funds count their gains, a different group seems to be growing more comfortable with Mr. Chen's pledge to return the company to profitability over the next year or so: Longer-term institutional investors. Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan Board disclosed recently it bought 7.8 million shares in the third quarter this year and Philadelphia-based Susquehanna International Group LLP almost doubled its stake in BlackBerry, to 5 million shares, in the first half of the year.
Another recent convert is Montreal-based Montrusco Bolton Investments Inc. Christian Godin, senior vice president, head of equities, won't disclose the fund manager's exact stake, but indicated that Montrusco Bolton now owns millions of shares, its first notable stake since selling out during the company's crisis-filled 2011.
"I hope it will be a long-term hold," Mr. Godin said. "We've appreciated that Chen has pretty much done what he said he would be doing," including an outsourcing deal to reduce losses from the handset division and striking a deal to offer hundreds of thousands of Android apps to BlackBerry customers via Amazon's app store. Mr. Godin is also impressed with the company's new, oversized Passport smartphone, which he received this week and says has already replaced his laptop.
Still, there are lots of reasons to hold the applause for now, including an uncertain reception to BlackBerry's retro Classic smartphone, to be launched this fall, and whether the company can offset more than $1.5-billion in highly profitable service revenues that are draining away at a steady pace. Perhaps that's why many other big Canadian institutional investors, including OMERS, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, own few or no BlackBerry shares just yet.
Follow Scott Barlow on Twitter @SBarlow_ROB.