Business

Emerging markets keep BlackBerry afloat - for now

Charles Arthur

Is BlackBerry manufacturer RIM out of the woods? If all you looked at was its after-hours share price and analysts' forecasts, you might think so.

The shares surged 18% after its results were announced; they showed losses that were less and handset shipments that were greater than analysts had forecast.

Alas, as Benedict Evans of Enders Analysis pointed out on September 28, the share ramp instead looked like a classic "short and squeeze" pattern, according to which those who had short-sold the shares in expectation of dire results were forced back into the market to buy and minimise their own losses when the numbers were only awful.

RIM's problems are far from over. Its market share has collapsed in the United States; it has just suffered its third successive quarter of losses (and forecast at least one more); average selling prices for its handsets are down; the 7.4-million handset shipments are 30% down in a rapidly expanding market; and its PlayBook tablet shipped just 130 000 units, whereas Apple's iPad shipped more every day of the second quarter.

The only area showing success is emerging markets such as Indonesia, where the combination of cheap handsets and its BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) service – which does not need a data contract to function – appeals to a broad demographic.

The other area is enterprises, which have not yet abandoned BlackBerrys because of their security and email functionality.

Tougher
"Many new products are coming in so the market is going to get tougher, more challenging," chief executive Thorsten Heins told analysts in a conference call, adding that this would most likely force RIM to cut prices further.

That is going to hurt profits even more. RIM's US revenues have been collapsing since mid-2010 – although, fortunately for its survival, revenues from other geographical regions have grown to make up some of the difference.

But the general trend is downward, with revenues falling 31% to $2.87-billion – the fifth successive quarterly drop – and operating losses hitting $363-million, the third straight quarter of losses that, in total, are nudging $900-milllion.

RIM's problem is that it is ill-equipped to compete at the cheaper end of the cellphone market – but that is where the huge success of Apple and Samsung, which between them control half of that sector, have relegated it.

"Although RIM delivered marginally better results, we believe it is still too early to get constructive," said Phillip Huang of UBS Investment Research.

The crucial question will be how effective BB10, the upcoming version of its operating system, can be.

Promising carriers
Although Heins wowed developers earlier this week by showing off BB10 handsets and promising carriers would start testing them in October, there will still be a huge delay before the new products go on sale, probably in March 2013.

By that time it would face renewed pressure in the low-end markets from Finland's Nokia, as well as Chinese handset makers offering cheap Android phones, said Francisco Jeronimo, cellphones ­analyst at researchers IDC.

"They're still relying on a very strong brand – that's what has been supporting them," said Jeronimo.

"People in those markets can't afford high-end phones like the iPhone. But if BB10 isn't as good as they have been promising, then there will be problems. Let's see what happens in the next quarter."

He thinks that will add extra pressure as RIM comes under fire from rivals.

Colin Gillis, an analyst with BGC Financial, was more blunt.

"It does give them more time. The talk of bankruptcy has probably dissipated right now," Gillis said.

"These are all the right moves, but does it change that their position is still bleak?" – © Guardian News & Media 2012

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