RIM Forecast Tops Analysts' Estimates; Shares Jump

Research In Motion Ltd. (RIMM) surged in late trading after the BlackBerry maker forecast sales and profit that beat analysts' estimates as discounts helped boost demand for its Curve phone.

Sales in the three months ending in February will be $4.2 billion to $4.4 billion, and earnings per share will be at least $1.23, Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM said today in a statement. Analysts had projected sales of $4.12 billion and profit excluding some items of $1.12 a share, according to a Bloomberg survey.

RIM's push to attract a wider audience, by selling its phones through Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) and Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN), helped make the Curve the top-selling smart phone in the U.S. last quarter, according to NPD Group Inc. RIM is also developing new models of the Bold and Storm to fend off competition from Apple Inc.'s iPhone and Motorola Inc.'s (MOT) Droid.

"It's a case of the Curve effect driving the international growth and the holiday shopping season, the consumer driving the North American market," said Nick Agostino, an analyst at Research Capital Corp. in Toronto. He recommends investors buy the stock.

RIM jumped 12 percent in extended trading to $71.19. It fell $1.21 to $63.46 at 4 p.m. New York time on the Nasdaq Stock Market. The stock has climbed 56 percent this year.

Gross margin, the percentage of sales left after production costs, will be about 43.5 percent this quarter, RIM said. That compared with an average estimate of 42.6 percent from 10 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

China DealCo-Chief Executive Officer Jim Balsillie said the third quarter that ended Nov. 28 was the company's strongest for growth outside North America. About 35 percent of subscribers are from outside the region, he said on a conference call.

Balsillie also announced an agreement with China Telecom Corp. to offer the BlackBerry in China, the world's biggest mobile-phone market. RIM said last week it will offer a version of the BlackBerry in that country with China Mobile Ltd.

"China represents a large new market opportunity," Balsillie said. "We're moving forward with our plans to more aggressively target this region."

RIM is pursuing a wider audience than its traditional corporate user base as competition escalates with rivals. RIM said it added 4.4 million subscribers last quarter.

"It looks like it was the Curve 8520 that really drove the quarter," said Steven Li, an analyst at Raymond James Ltd. in Toronto, who rates the shares "market perform." "The guidance was strong and the margins are holding."

Sales in the fiscal third quarter rose 41 percent to $3.92 billion, RIM said. Net income in the period climbed 59 percent to $628.4 million, or $1.10 a share, from $396.3 million, or 69 cents, a year earlier.

Gross margin last quarter was 42.7 percent, RIM said.

Brian Bidulka, RIM's chief accounting officer, will become chief financial officer, Balsillie said on the call.

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