BUSINESS

BlackBerry shares below $10 for 1st time in months as company asks for patience

07/10/2013 12:02 EDT | Updated 09/09/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - BlackBerry (TSX:BB) shares closed below $10 for the first time since last year on Wednesday, a day after the smartphone maker's chief executive encouraged investors to remain patient while the company navigates its recovery plan.

The Waterloo, Ont.-based company's stock ended the session down nearly four per cent, or 40 cents, to $9.80 at the Toronto Stock Exchange.

The stock last closed below $10 on Nov. 20 and reached a 52-week high of $17.80 in January, around the time that its new smartphones were unveiled.

BlackBerry has faced a heightened level of scrutiny since it posted quarterly results last month that fell short of analysts' largely optimistic expectations.

A growing sentiment between analysts has focused on whether BlackBerry will be able to successfully recover from its past blunders any time soon, particularly because even some of the industry's most popular smartphone developers are running into headwinds. Both Samsung and HTC recently posted quarterly sales reports that fell short of expectations.

While Heins has hinted at products that could hit stores before the end of this year, the company hasn't announced anything specific. It's widely expected that the company will unveil a phablet — a smaller-sized tablet device — designed to fill the void left by its decision to no longer update the PlayBook.

"They are wanting to launch products at a measured pace, but time is of the essence and we believe the company would be better served with shorter product cycles," said Bill Kreher, a technology analyst with financial services firm Edward Jones in an interview.

"In the smartphone category today you need to be front-of-mind with consumers, which requires consistent rollouts to keep you relevant."

Pacific Crest analyst James Faucette said the high-end smartphone market is facing a point of "general saturation" that could weigh on BlackBerry's attempt to gain a stronger position.

The launch of the lower-priced BlackBerry Q5 smartphone in the UK has fallen short of expectations with sales of roughly 5,000 devices, according to Faucette's checks with retailers.

The numbers are not official and BlackBerry does not release specific sales figures for its devices.

Faucette also said U.K. retailer Phones 4U has sent back their stock of Blackberry Z10 phones from "as many as a third" of its locations and doesn't plan to stock it any longer.

"We believe BlackBerry is at risk of similar behaviour from other retailers and in other regions in the coming quarters, which we believe would impede the company’s ability to regain scale," he said in a note, with an underperform rating on the company.

"Checks indicate continued deterioration of BlackBerry's business. We see downside to $6 per share and remain sellers."

Emails to UK representatives of Phones 4U were not answered on Wednesday and a BlackBerry spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter.

On Tuesday, Heins outlined BlackBerry's strategy to become profitable once again at the company's annual meeting.

The three-stage plan included pushing ahead with new products yet to be unveiled, focusing more on corporate customers, and opening the BlackBerry Messenger service to competing devices like Apple's iPhone and smartphones on the Android operating system later this summer.

From there, Heins said the company aims to return to profitability, which he called the third stage of the plan, but he stopped short of predicting when that would happen.

Sales of BlackBerry's new smartphones in the United States have been considered underwhelming by analysts, and shareholders expressed their concerns on Tuesday about the company's position in the highly-competitive U.S. market at the annual meeting.

Heins said he is aware that investors expect "better results and faster progress from us."

Last month, BlackBerry parted ways with Richard Piasentin, who was responsible for the management of its sales in the United States. The company is also working to save further costs throughout its operations.

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