BlackBerry, the Canadian smartphone maker, climbed to its highest level in more than a month after Chief Executive Officer Thorsten Heins said he sees sales of its new Q10 device to be in the “tens of millions.”
“We have very, very good first signs already after the launch in the U.K.,” Heins said, referring to the device which features a keyboard, in an interview with Bloomberg Television today at the Milken Institute conference in Los Angeles. “This is going into the installed base of more than 70 million BlackBerry users so we have quite some expectations. We expect several tens of million of units,” he said.
The shares rose 3.9 percent to $15.61 at the close in New York, the highest price since March 21. The stock has increased 32 percent this year on optimism that the new BlackBerry 10 lineup can help fuel a comeback.
The Waterloo, Ontario-based company is counting on a wave of upgrade buying from BlackBerry users who prefer a physical keyboard to drive Q10 sales and help revive revenue growth. While the touch-screen Z10 sold a million units in its first quarter that ended March 2, in line with analyst estimates, the company’s stock has experienced volatility in recent weeks following reports of lackluster demand for the Z10.
Department store Selfridges and outlets of Carphone Warehouse sold out of the Q10 quickly, Peter Misek, an analyst at Jefferies Group LLC in New York, wrote in a note today.
“Salespeople were well-versed on the device and there was more apparent buzz versus the Z10 launch,” Misek said.
BlackBerry said April 12 it would ask securities regulators to investigate a report from Detwiler Fenton & Co. that its new phones have high return rates, saying that the “false” information may have been released in a deliberate attempt to manipulate its stock price.
“Whatever the motivation is you have to use the right facts, and that’s what we’re challenging right now,” Heins said, referring to the company’s request for both the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Ontario Securities Commission to review the report.
Data from BlackBerry and one of its U.S. carrier partners Verizon Wireless show that Z10 returns are “completely in line” with the industry and “better than previous BlackBerry launches were, so the quality speaks for itself,” Heins said.
In a separate report last week, Wedge Partners said BlackBerry is probably scaling back Z10 production.
Misek, who has a buy rating on BlackBerry shares, said he saw no sign of Z10 manufacturing cuts and that “Z10 sales in Canada, the U.S. and U.K., remain steady with no inventory or return issues.”
The Q10, set to go on sale in the U.S. at the end of May, will sell through the four largest U.S. carriers for about $249 on a two-year contract. While that’s $50 more than Apple Inc.’s iPhone 5, it’s part of a strategy to target business users willing to pay more for a phone they think will boost their productivity, according to analysts including Anil Doradla at William Blair & Co. in Chicago.
The company, formerly known as Research In Motion Ltd., has steadily lost ground over the past three years to Apple and Samsung Electronics Co. which offered more compelling touchscreen devices. Samsung accounted for one-third of smartphone sales last quarter, while Apple had 17 percent, according to IDC. BlackBerry’s share fell to 3.2 percent in the fourth quarter and then dropped out of the top five in the first three months of this year.
Heins has said he is exploring the potential licensing of the BlackBerry 10 operating system to other companies.
A successful introduction of the new phones will “create a certain attraction towards BlackBerry 10, and then whatever comes up, we will entertain any valuable discussion for the company,” Heins said today. “We are still observing and watching that space and that’s what we will continue to do.”