New BlackBerry CEO John Chen plans to turn the struggling smartphone maker around. Handout
Canadian company BlackBerry Ltd. today reported a large loss of $4.4 billion US from continuing operations in its latest quarter on Friday.
The struggling smartphone company's revenue was below expectations at $1.2 billion, down 56 per cent from the same quarter last year. And its adjusted loss from continuing operations was $354 million, or 67 cents per share — 23 cents below analyst estimates.
Much of the $4.4-billion headline loss came from writedowns related to unsold inventory. Aside from those one-time items, the $354-million figure is what the company booked from its actual operations in the quarter.
Analysts expected BlackBerry's adjusted loss would be 44 cents per share and its revenue would be about $400 million higher at $1.6 billion US. The company reports in U.S. dollars.
But beyond the profit loss, investors appeared to react positively to the details of how new CEO John Chen proposes to turn the company around, as BlackBerry shares gained 16 per cent to close at $7.74 on the TSX.
The company hasn't had a day in which its shares gained more than 10 per cent since August. The volume of BlackBerry shares trading hands was more than three times the amount seen on a typical day.
While the past year has been calamitous for the once-iconic Canadian phone maker, its new chief executive is reordering the company in hopes of a brighter future.
"With the operational and organizational changes we have announced, BlackBerry has established a clear road map that will allow it to target a return to improved financial performance in the coming year," Chen said.
"We have a strong balance sheet, over $3 billion in cash," Chen told analysts on a conference call. "I'll be the first one to tell you, the cash position we have today will definitely allow us to engineer a turnaround."
BlackBerry announced a new five-year partnership with Foxconn, the world's largest manufacturer of electronic products, to manufacture devices for the Waterloo, Ont.-based company.
Taiwan-based Foxconn will jointly develop and manufacture certain new BlackBerry devices and manage the inventory of them, the company said.
"The partnership with Foxconn should help [BlackBerry] both financially by lowering costs and with new designs for the emerging markets where they still have a major presence," analyst Jack Gold said in reaction to the news.
Sales were off by about 50 per cent and about three-quarters of the BlackBerrys that did sell in the quarter were from the lower-end BB7 family, which predate the company's more recent BlackBerry 10 offerings, and come with a lower price and hence profit margin.
The company has pinned its hopes on the success of BlackBerry 10 devices, but so far that sales boost has failed to materialize.
"Since launching 10 this year, there's been no material revenue yet but maybe in 2015," Chen said.
BlackBerry's operational performance during the quarter was well below expectations and a huge drop from the same time last year.
A year earlier, BlackBerry had a small profit of $14 million of three cents per share under standard accounting and $2.7 billion of revenue.
Analysts expected BlackBerry adjusted loss would be 44 cents per share and its revenue would be about $1.6 billion.
This was the first financial report from BlackBerry since Chen became chairman and interim chief executive.
Since Chen joined BlackBerry last month, replacing Thorsten Heins, he has started a dramatic overhaul of its executive ranks and begun fresh efforts to turn around the company.
He said parts of BlackBerry's business, including its enterprise services for organizations and its messaging products, are in good shape, and the most immediate challenge is to improve its devices operations.
"We have accomplished a lot in the past 45 days, but still have significant work ahead of us as we target improved financial performance next year," Chen said.
"However, the company is financially strong, has a broad and trusted product portfolio to work with, a talented employee base and a new leadership team dedicated to implementing our new road map."
The analyst community agreed, seeing some reasons for hope behind the dismal-looking numbers.
"BlackBerry still has a way to go to achieve turn around," Gold said. "The new management restructuring will likely help, but the primary challenge is to stem the losses in devices and get more people interested in the higher end devices, which is not happening at the current time."
Gold noted that the company managed to grow its user base for BlackBerry messenger to 80 million users, about half of which are on Android or IOS devices. That's an encouraging sign for the company, even if they haven't figured out how to monetize that growth yet, Gold said.
Chen says the partnership with Foxconn demonstrates BlackBerry's commitment to making devices over the long term.
There has been speculation that BlackBerry could get out of the device business in light of intense competition from Apple, Samsung and other smartphone makers.
For many people, Foxconn is best known as one of Apple's main suppliers.
“The deal with Foxconn, it outsources their manufacturing and takes away the inventory risk for low-end phones – that’s a good step,” Sameet Kanade, an analyst at Jacob Securities, said in an interview with CBC’sLang & O’Leary Exchange.
“What they’re trying to do is outsource the low-margin product and manufacturing, keep control on the high-margin product and drive that,” he said.
But the conference call didn’t build confidence in Chen’s leadership, because too much was left out of the discussion, Kanade said, including how BlackBerry will sell its high-margin products and how it will build on its reputation for having better security.
“We expected with this call, he would talk about changes on the software side to address needs of enterprise customers,” Kanade said, adding that it’s still “watch and wait” on BlackBerry.
Later Wednesday, the University of Waterloo said it has purchased five buildings and land from BlackBerry for $41 million Cdn.
The deal, which is expected to close Feb. 14, will add an additional 300,000 square feet and more than 1,000 parking spaces to the school's holdings. Three of the buildings go into use as soon as the deal closes, while the remaining two will be leased to the smartphone maker for up to five years.
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