RIM: Doomed To Sink?
A candid diagnosis of the troubles facing Research In Motion delivered by freshman chief executive Thorsten Heins was a welcome change for its stake-holders, but his prescription for returning the BlackBerry maker to health might be hard to swallow. RIM recorded its first quarterly loss in seven years Thursday and said it would no longer issue forecasts.
A prolonged slump in sales of its smartphones shows no signs of abating, it said, at least until it can launch its next-generation lineup this year. Heins, saying RIM could not be "all things to all people," laid out a broad plan to bring in partners to help it plug the BlackBerry's weaknesses in consumer features such as music and video. RIM will also seek deals to license its software and highly secure network to other providers.
He said he might consider selling the company if the review pointed in that direction. But his options, which might also include scaling back or exiting the hardware business entirely, are either hugely disruptive to the company, un- likely to happen, or both. Still, investors seemed cheered by the straight talk, pushing its battered shares up almost eight per cent on Fri-day. That gave the stock some breathing room from its lowest value in about eight years. It had dropped nearly 80 per cent since February 2011. For now, talk of a sale is premature.
RIM has avoided any discussions with potential suitors since a management and board shuffle in January put Heins in charge, two sources said. "They are not having any dialogue with private equity or strategics," one source said. The board, and in particular its newest member, value investor Prem. Watsa, preferred to give Heins some time to turn things around, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussion were private. "Prem. Watsa is really very influential there now," the source said. "They want to give (Heins) the opportunity to keep his head down and focus on the business." Watsa, known for big bets on what he considers down-trodden stocks, joined RIM's board in January after building a stake he has since doubled, making his Fairfax Financial Holdings the second-largest RIM investor behind Primecap Management Co. A RIM spokeswoman declined to expand on the remarks Heins made Thurs-day.
RIM sees a saviour on the horizon in the BlackBerry 10, which uses a different platform than the one that powers its legacy BlackBerry phones. But BlackBerry 10 hard-ware won't arrive until late in the year if RIM sticks to its schedule, and the competitive threats Heins alluded to in his conference call will likely have accelerated by then, leaving RIM further behind. Ambitious handset makers such as HTC and Huawei may have an interest in licensing BlackBerry software to enhance their credentials for providing secure e-mail to businesses and government agencies, said Neil Mawston from Strategy Analytics. But major deals are unlikely before the launch of BlackBerry 10, he said. "Potential partners or investors may want to know if the knife has stopped falling before they try to catch it." It's not like RIM is in a strong negotiating position, with Google giving away its Android system, and Micro-soft also in the mix with its revamped mobile software and dominance of office desktops.