BlackBerry maker RIM sees operating loss, shares slump

TORONTO Tue May 29, 2012 7:59pm EDT

A logo of the Blackberry maker's Research in Motion is seen on a building at the RIM Technology Park in Waterloo April 18, 2012. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

A logo of the Blackberry maker's Research in Motion is seen on a building at the RIM Technology Park in Waterloo April 18, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Mark Blinch

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TORONTO (Reuters) - Research In Motion Ltd on Tuesday warned it could report an operating loss and said it had engaged bankers to help it review its business, the latest in a string of dismal messages from the once-dominant BlackBerry maker.

The struggling company, which virtually invented the concept of on-your-hip email with its first BlackBerry devices, also said it would cut a "significant" number of jobs, adding to a string of senior executives who resigned in recent weeks.

RIM shares, down more than 75 percent over the past 12 months and trading at 8-year lows, slumped nearly 13 percent to around $9.77 a share in after market trading.

"That is a disaster. It's really bad. We did not expect an operating loss this quickly," said Peter Misek, an analyst at Jefferies & Co.

Mark McKechnie, an analyst at ThinkEquity LLC, put RIM's value at "about $10 per share" - reflecting what its portfolio of patents might bring. At its peak in mid-2008, RIM stock changed hands for more than $140.

Before the warning, analysts had expected RIM's earnings to fall to 42 cents a share and revenue to slip to $3.64 billion, according to analyst views collated by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. RIM is due to release its first-quarter results on June 28.

RIM's acknowledgement of job cuts confirmed reports earlier this week that a reduction was coming as it repositions itself in a smartphone market where it now trails far behind Apple Inc and rivals using Google Inc's Android.

But it gave no figures for the scale of the job cuts or the likely size of the operating loss. Two sources with close connections to RIM have told Reuters that RIM, which currently employs around 16,500 people globally, plans to slash its workforce closer to 10,000 by early next year.

"They're clearly moving in the wrong direction right now, so I found it a little frustrating that there wasn't more detail," said Alex Gauna, an analyst at JMP Securities.

In a statement, RIM's new CEO, Thorsten Heins, stressed that he planned to keep spending and hiring for the development of the next-generation BlackBerry 10 phones and to expand its catalog of third-party applications. A dearth of apps compared with the number available for Apple and Android-based devices has been a major drag on RIM's sales.

BANKERS HIRED

RIM, based in Waterloo, Ontario, said it had hired the bankers from JP Morgan and Royal Bank of Canada, after releasing its year-end results in late March to aid its strategic review.

It wants them to evaluate strategies including an overhaul of its whole business model, as well as less dramatic moves such as expanding the BlackBerry platform through partnerships and licensing deals.

Other smartphone makers still cannot compete with the security features on RIM's devices, something that has made the BlackBerry a crucial tool for police, government and military use.

"These advisors have been tasked to help us with the strategic review we referenced on our year-end financial results conference call and to evaluate the relative merits and feasibility of various financial strategies," Heins said.

BLACKBERRY 10

RIM said its subscriber base grew to 78 million users, up 1 million from the previous quarter ended March 29. But growth was slower than in any recent quarters.

RIM, its market share falling by the month, is pinning its hopes on the BlackBerry 10 models, featuring a spiffy new operating system that RIM says will let it compete more effectively against Apple and others.

But the new devices won't be released until later this year, pointing to further difficult quarters to come.

In the meantime, RIM is struggling to retain its top talent. RIM said on Monday that its chief legal officer was resigning, and its head of global sales resigned last week to take a job at audio company Sonos.

"I don't see the tide turning," said Misek. "The problem is the BlackBerry 10 handsets aren't coming out next quarter, so you know next quarter is going to most likely be worse. Then you look at the November quarter, when we'll probably get the BB10 handsets, and at the same time we'll have the iPhone 5. So that quarter is probably going to be bad.

"So we have a string of bad quarters coming and it really is tough to see how it's going to get better."

In March, RIM posted a net loss of $125 million on the back of an inventory writedown for phones launched last year. Excluding those one-time items, RIM reported an adjusted profit of $418 million.

(Writing by Cameron French and Alastair Sharp; Editing by Janet Guttsman and Frank McGurty)

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