BUSINESS

Research In Motion earnings likely to show more troubles for BlackBerry-maker

06/27/2012 04:22 EDT | Updated 08/27/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Another chapter in the Research In Motion drama will begin Thursday as the company releases its first-quarter earnings results, which are widely expected to show more problems ahead for the BlackBerry maker.

The Waterloo, Ont.-based company (TSX:RIM) will unveil earnings after market close, and they're not expected to look pretty. Chief executive Thorsten Heins has indicated RIM will book an operating loss for the three-month period, though he has not provided specifics.

But there could be more bad news included, as many analysts predict RIM will post significantly lower shipments to stores due to its lack of new smartphone models. Those sales numbers will determine how difficult it will be for RIM to weather the fickle market in the coming months as it prepares to launch new devices sometime later this year.

Equally important to investors will be the company's business update, which could offer some insight into when the BlackBerry 10 operating system and the new phones will be launched. Both were originally scheduled to come out earlier this year and are considered a last-ditch effort to save the company.

RIM is expected on average to post a penny per share loss in the first quarter of its 2013 financial year, while revenues on average are expected to fall about 37 per cent to $3.1 billion, according to analyst estimates compiled by Thomson Reuters.

The results are also likely to mark the first in a succession of losses for the rest of this year, and perhaps even longer.

"The adoption (of BlackBerry phones) is slowing down and devices aren't being shipped, so by default you have a writedown," said Sameet Kanade, a technology analyst at Northern Securities in an interview about the first-quarter outlook.

He estimates the company shipped about 8.2 million BlackBerry smartphones during the quarter ended June 2, a significant drop from 11.1 million in the fourth quarter. At this point, RIM is only selling phones that have already been on the market for some time, making its competitors' new products appear more cutting-edge.

"I think I'm being generous by not going down to six million," Kanade added.

RIM will also face severance costs in the quarter related to recently laid off employees, as well as costs associated with the rollout of BlackBerry 10.

The company has been strongly criticized for delaying BB10, but executives have insisted they want to get this right rather than face an onslaught of bad reviews, like those that came after it rushed the releases of the BlackBerry Storm touch screen and the PlayBook tablet.

However, the postponed launch date could run the BlackBerry unveiling directly into competition with Apple's debut of the latest iPhone, which is the dominant smartphone in the North American market.

If RIM waits too long it will also miss the crucial September launch season when many smartphones hit the market in an attempt to grab the attention of students heading back to school and early holiday shoppers.

Executives at RIM have said the company intends to focus more on its enterprise business, or the big companies that buy smartphones in large quantities. Still, many of its sneak previews of the BB10 system have focused on flashy applications and features more akin to the consumer market, such as photo editing software and games.

RIM has said that it expects to increase its cash position — or the money it has set aside for emergencies and acquisitions — to above the near $2.1 billion it had at the end of its 2012 financial year.

Uncertainty has engulfed the future of RIM in recent months as speculation swirls over whether the company could be bought, or forced to sell off certain pieces of its operations to survive.

Last weekend, the Sunday Times said the company was considering selling its handset manufacturing unit or a stake in the whole company, though RIM representatives downplayed the reports.

Once known as Canada's high-tech heavyweight, and the most valuable company in the country, RIM's stock market value has plummeted to about $4.94 billion from heights of well over $60 billion when its stock was at its peak.

Earlier this year the company hired JPMorgan Chase & Co. and RBC Capital Markets to help evaluate its strategic options, though Heins has been adamant on sticking to a plan to turn the company around.

RIM began cutting jobs last week as part of a strategy to find $1 billion in savings by the end of its 2013 financial year. Suggestions have placed the cuts at about 2,000 employees across its global operations, though the company has declined to confirm any specifics.

Before the latest round of cuts BlackBerry had a global workforce of some 16,500.

RIM is also in the midst of a worldwide tour called BlackBerry Jam that's designed to woo software developers into creating applications for its devices.

Despite all of the criticism, the company still has loyal customers who swear by the BlackBerry, and refuse to defect to another smartphone.

"They've had a series of missteps along the way and hopefully they can rectify the problem because it is a great device, it is fantastic technology, it is widely used around the world," said Chris Kuflik, ScotiaMcLeod wealth adviser in Montreal.

"My 13-year-old and all of her friends they didn't want an iPhone — they want BBM. They can write their texts much faster on a keyboard. It's interesting to look at the small sample in Canada ... but that's what the kids asked for."

Shares of RIM closed up 2.9 per cent, or 27 cents, to $9.44 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Wednesday.