BlackBerry Wraps Turnaround Year as Holders Await Profit

BlackBerry Ltd. unveiled a new phone that harks back to the company’s glory days of being the world’s leading smartphone maker, capping a year dedicated to stabilizing finances and winning back investor confidence.

Earnings on Friday will shed light on how successful the turnaround has been.

BlackBerry Chief Executive Officer John Chen showed off the new “Classic” phone at an event in New York yesterday, touting its qwerty keyboard and trackpad. It’s a phone reminiscent of the devices that were once status symbols among constantly-connected, productivity-focused professionals.

When he first took the job a year ago, Chen got reactions ranging from “Wow you’re really brave to take on this job” to “You really needed a job to escape from home,” Chen said at the event. “A year has gone by, the conversation has completely changed,” he said.

A plan to take BlackBerry private had just unraveled when Chen stepped in last year, and the company’s share of the global smartphone market had fallen to less than 1 percent. While his strategy has included new devices like the Passport that cater to business users, Chen has been more focused on providing software and security for governments and corporations.

Smartphone Sales

“The company’s on point with its message; it still has to execute,” Colin Gillis, a New York-based analyst at BGC Partners, said in a phone interview. The earnings report will give investors an idea of how both smartphone and software sales have faired, said Gillis, who lifted his rating on the stock to buy from hold yesterday.

Gillis estimates hardware revenue in the quarter will rise 8.8 percent to $518 million, buoyed by the new square-screened Passport phone, which BlackBerry began selling in September.

“Let’s watch how the software line does, and then, the big thing is if we can get a little upside from Passport,” Gillis said. BlackBerry said it pre-sold 200,000 Passports. No update has been given since then but Gillis estimates 450,000 were sold during the quarter.

BlackBerry revenue is estimated to drop 22 percent to $932 million in the fiscal third quarter, which ended Nov. 30, according to the average of analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. The company is projected to post a narrower loss of 5 cents a share, on average.

Customer Complaints

It’s unlikely even blockbuster sales of the Classic would be a big enough boost to turn the company around, according to Ehud Gelblum, a technology analyst at Citigroup Inc.

“For them to do well without selling more devices means they’re getting companies to adopt the 12 for the iPhone and Android fleets,” Gelblum, said by phone, referring to BlackBerry’s latest operating system. “I just don’t see that happening.”

The new phone, which has a 22-hour battery life and an eight-megapixel camera, could give BlackBerry fans a new reason to be excited about the company without mimicking what other phonemakers have done. Shares of BlackBerry rose 2.1 percent to $10.19 at 9:33 a.m. in New York.

Jennifer Richardson, a TV producer from Phoenix, has stuck with her BlackBerry for six years and wants to get a Classic. Yet, she says she still uses an iPhone for certain apps, like making mobile payments at Starbucks.

Chen said he’s listening to customers like Richardson.

“As much as I share the frustration with you not having enough apps, like airline apps, we are working on it,” Chen said in an interview with analysts and reporters after the event. “I need a little bit of time, because I can’t fix everything at the same time.”

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