June 17, 2011 / 6:14 AM / in 6 years

RIM swoons on grim results, shareholders fret

5 Min Read

<p>A woman holds the a RIM PlayBook in Toronto, April 19, 2011.Mark Blinch</p>

TORONTO (Reuters) - Research In Motion's dismal results and failure to deliver exciting new devices on time pushed its shares down more than 20 percent on Friday and drew parallels with other fallen technology stars.

The BlackBerry maker's shares plummeted below $28, hitting the lowest level in almost five years, after the company missed some of its own limp forecasts and reported a drop in profit.

It was RIM's sharpest one-day decline since September 2008 in trading volumes among its heaviest ever. The shares are down more than 60 percent since February, wiping billions off its market value.

Even more worrying, some of the company's largest shareholders are showing signs of bailing out.

One of RIM's biggest investors, Jarisloswky Fraser, has already cut its stake in half, according to Bloomberg.

Another gave RIM six months to get its house in order.

"I think in the next six months we'll have a much better idea of where we stand," said the head of a fund with a major stake. "They've laid out a business strategy and we're measuring their ability to execute."

Lower Targets

At least 14 analysts lowered their price targets for RIM, most of them highlighting what appears to be a once-dynamic product development pipeline that's running dry.

RIM admitted delays in revamping an aging smartphone lineup and slashed what most analysts viewed as an unattainable full year earnings outlook. It also said it planned to cut an unspecified number of jobs.

"Bottom line, we believe RIM has no short-term fixes to improve product portfolio, brand perception, to reinvigorate share gains, revenue growth and profitability," Citi's Jim Suva wrote in a note to clients.

RIM's difficulties bear a striking resemblance to recent troubles at Finland's Nokia, another struggling national technology champion blindsided by the roaring success of Apple's iPhone and handset makers using Google's Android software.

Some analysts drew comparisons between RIM and Nortel Networks, the once-mighty Canadian equipment maker that went into bankruptcy and is selling its final assets.

RIM's co-chief executives both sounded contrite on a conference call with analysts. But analysts said neither appeared to fully comprehend the challenges that lay ahead.

"The company is facing its greatest challenge, maybe in its history, and each CEO continues to believe there is unprecedented interest in their products," Deutsche Bank's Brian Modoff wrote as he cut his price target to $20 from $45.

JP Morgan downgraded to "neutral" from "overweight".

"Until we see some evidence that product development is on track and visibility is returning we would advise investors to find other places to invest," its analyst Rod Hall said.

RIM's delay launching a touchscreen version of the Bold model and at least one other device, now due by late August, threatens its hard-won relationships with North American and European carriers, which expected the phones in July.

"We are concerned that RIM may have given them overly optimistic launch timetables, which may end up alienating" them, said Tero Kuittinen, an analyst from MKM Partners.

Cellular-enabled versions of RIM's PlayBook tablet, which would give carriers a reason to push the iPad competitor, aren't expected until autumn, from a prior summer timeframe.

Leadership Questions

The dim results and outlook also fanned questions about RIM's co-chief executives.

Deutsche's Modoff was disappointed that neither Mike Lazaridis nor Jim Balsillie described the planned job cuts as a reorganization -- which he would view as a positive.

Both brushed off criticism of RIM's dual chief structure with what seemed "more of a staged piece of theater than a serious answer to a serious strategic question," Modoff said.

RIM has cut staff before, in a 2002 move still known around its Waterloo, Ontario, headquarters as the "10 percent purge." That followed a dip in revenue and spiraling costs as it started selling its early BlackBerry phones via carriers.

But it's been all growth since then, with RIM now boasting more than 17,000 employees, up from 14,000 a year ago.

Bright Spots

There were bright spots in the first quarter results, including 500,000 PlayBooks shipped. International revenue grew 67 percent partly on the back of RIM's BlackBerry Messenger instant messaging service. But that appeal may not be enough.

"The concern is the sustainability of that low-end market that is working for them now. I'm not sure over the long haul if that texting arbitrage is going to keep them afloat," said Matthew Robison from Wunderlich Securities, who suggested RIM may retract into a niche space serving corporations.

RIM's U.S.-listed shares closed down $7.58 at $27.75. The shares fell $7.13 to C$27.24 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Additional reporting by Soham Chatterjee and Tenzin Pema in Bangalore; Editing by Frank McGurty and Janet Guttsman

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