TORONTO Research In Motion Ltd's quarterly results this week may hold a clue as to whether the smartphone maker can pull off its make-or-break plan to reinvent itself with a new generation of completely revamped BlackBerry devices.
RIM watchers agree the results on Thursday will be dismal at best. But the size of RIM's cash pile ahead of the 2013 launch of its new BlackBerry 10, or BB10, line-up is crucial to its success or failure.
With the Blackberry rapidly losing market share to Apple's snazzier iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy phones, RIM's hopes are now pinned on its BB10 devices.
The devices, due early next year, will run on an entirely new operating system that the company boasts will offer a faster and smoother user interface, and a better platform for apps that are now critical to a smartphone's success.
"Cash ensures a level of survivability and cash makes your partners more comfortable that you are going to be around in the future," said BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis.
To be sure, whether the new devices can deliver a wow factor to rival the iPhone or other competitors is probably the biggest factor in determining how the new line fares.
But those betting on RIM's resurgence and its languishing share price are hoping the company can conserve as much of its cash pile as possible ahead of the BB10 debut. RIM reported cash reserves of $2.2 billion in the previous quarter.
RIM needs money to develop, build and market the millions of new devices it begins shipping next year, even as its revenue from existing phones continues to slide.
Some fear that RIM's subscriber numbers, which have grown consistently through the years, might decline for the first time this quarter, although growth in developing economies will likely offset market share losses in North America for now.
But growth from last quarter's base of roughly 78 million subscribers may come at a price, with gains skewed toward lower-end devices. That will hurt the closely watched average selling price for RIM's Blackberry devices.
"The best case scenario, given the pressure RIM is under, is a flat subscriber base with cash remaining at roughly $2.0 billion," said Scotiabank analyst Gus Papageorgiou in a note to clients.
RIM, which earlier this year said it was cutting some 5,000 jobs to conserve capital, is also likely to update the market on the progress in its restructuring plan.
Even before those results, the company hosts a three-day developer event in San Jose, starting on Tuesday, where RIM Chief Executive Thorsten Heins will give developers, analysts and the media a preview of the capabilities of the BB10 devices.
With the sales of Apple Inc's new iPhone 5 on a roll and pressure building from devices that run on Google Inc's Android operating system, RIM has to prove that its new devices can stand apart within an ultra-competitive market.
This week's event, aimed at tempting developers to build applications for RIM's new devices, may also provide hints on RIM's app store strategy. Analysts believe RIM needs a strong line-up of apps and content in a new, unified BlackBerry store to entice people to buy the BB10 devices.
TD Securities analyst Scott Penner points out smartphones are fast becoming low-margin access devices through which companies can offer more profitable cloud-based content. But RIM's media services remain a hodgepodge of stores, making it harder for RIM to compete, he said.
"We are expecting more material announcements and a strong showing as to how BlackBerry 10 can help turn the tide for the company," said Papageorgiou, warning that an event that is long on promises and short on content could hurt RIM shares further.
RIM's stock is currently around 9-year lows on both the Nasdaq and Toronto Stock Exchange. Its shares closed on Monday at C$6.18 in Toronto and $6.31 in New York. At its peak, in 2008, RIM stock changed hands at around $140 a share.
While positive news from the developer conference will be a welcome distraction for RIM's shareholders, analysts say RIM's results are likely to be dreadful through the rest of this year.
"We believe device average selling price compression remains the key threat to RIM's fundamentals," said Northern Securities analyst Sameet Kanade.
Excluding one-time items, analysts on average expect a loss of 47 cents a share on revenue of $2.5 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. RIM reported an adjusted loss of 37 cents a share on revenue of $2.81 billion in the quarter ended June 2.
Analysts expect BlackBerry shipments to have fallen to 6.9 million in the quarter to Sept 1, down from 7.8 million in the previous quarter.
"The next two quarters will be very rough for the company, given it is not launching any new products and competing devices are getting better. Expectations of a strong BB10 launch may be somewhat supportive, but unlikely to remove investors' attention from degrading financials," warned Papageorgiou.
(Reporting by Euan Rocha; Editing by Frank McGurty and Janet Guttsman)