A major source of Research In Motion Ltd.'s revenue is at risk of significant decline as RIM's core wireless carrier customers become more "averse" to paying out the monthly per-device fees to the Waterloo, Ont.-based BlackBerry maker, according to an industry analyst.
Toronto-based Northern Securities analyst Sameet Kanade said in a research note to clients on Monday that checks with RIM's major wireless customers at the recent Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona have made him much more bearish on the company.
RIM currently gets a monthly fee from the carriers of about $5 for each device on their network, Mr. Kanade said, but that number looks set to drop to around $2 by February, 2013, especially in the emerging markets where RIM has seen explosive growth. RIM has around 75 million subscribers, and in the last quarter derived nearly 20 per cent of its revenue from "service" fees charged to clients, though the majority of its revenue – at 79 per cent – came from hardware sales, which have declined as the BlackBerry brand has lost its lustre in more developed markets.
Mr. Kanade's forecast of a major decline in crucial revenue comes as RIM launches BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, a new version of its BlackBerry service for enterprise clients that allows corporations to implement a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy that could accelerate the trend of bringing iPhones and Android devices to workplaces more accustomed to BlackBerrys. He warned that it could begin to affect the company's balance sheet strength and will combine with the compressed profit margins he expects to see in RIM's handset business in the future.
"We now firmly believe that RIM does not have the luxury of time on its side and expect a significant compression in service revenue," Mr. Kanade wrote.
Northern Securities is run by Vic Alboini, who also runs Jaguar Financial and has acquired a stake in RIM along with other shareholders. In the past he has been a vocal RIM critic and has advocated for the company to explore strategic options, such as putting itself up for sale. When asked about the analyst's conclusions, a RIM spokesperson said the company would provide an update when it reports fourth quarter earnings on March 29.
Also on Monday, Canaccord Genuity analyst Mike Walkley put out a research note with more bad news for the company: According to his checks, both RIM and Taiwanese handset maker HTC Corp. continued to lose share of the high-end smartphone market to Apple Inc.'s iPhone 4S and new phones from Samsung, such as the Galaxy S II.
"(O)ur checks indicated continued soft BlackBerry sales due to high-end share losses in leading smartphone markets combined with lower-priced Nokia feature-phones and sub-$200 Android smartphones adversely impacting sales in emerging markets," Mr. Walkley wrote.
RIM shares were under pressure on Monday, down more than 3.5 per cent in mid-afternoon trading to $13.29. The company's stock price has fallen steeply from its 52-week high $67.94 and the company recently appointed new CEO Thorsten Heins after long-time co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie stepped down in January.
The losses for RIM that Mr. Walkley sees in the U.S. market come despite Mr. Heins's vow to ramp up marketing and restore the BlackBerry brand to prominence south of the Canadian border in an era with expectations redefined and dominated by sleek touch-screen devices.