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Updated: Sat, 21 Sep 2013 17:48:44 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Does BlackBerry have a future?



BlackBerry announced Friday it will lay off 4,500 employees, or 40 perccent of its global workforce, and is announcing a nearly $1 billion second-quarter loss in a surprise early release of earnings. Geoff Robins/Canadian Press

BlackBerry announced Friday it will lay off 4,500 employees, or 40 perccent of its global workforce, and is announcing a nearly $1 billion second-quarter loss in a surprise early release of earnings. Geoff Robins/Canadian Press

BlackBerry's announcement that it would be cutting 4,500 jobs unleashed a flurry of pessimistic speculation over the future of the beleaguered Waterloo, Ont., company, with some predicting it may simply cease to exist.

"Patient in intensive care, consider do not resuscitate order," wrote Iain Grant, an analyst with the Seaboard Group consulting firm, in an email to CBC News.

Felix Salmon, a financial blogger for Reuters, also put it bluntly: "They failed to win the smartphone wars, they have lost the smartphone wars and now they're toast. It's as simple as that," he told CBC's Lang & O'Leary Exchange.

Along with the announced round of cuts that would eliminate 40 per cent of its staff, the company, which has struggled to compete against Apple and Samsung in the smartphone market, is expected to post losses of nearly a billion dollars for its second-quarter earnings next Friday.

Although analysts had predicted revenue at around $3 billion, many were surprised with the company's projection of about $1.6 billion, with most of that blamed on the poor sales of its BlackBerry Z10.

"That’s disaster quality in terms of sales versus estimates," analyst Troy Crandall of MacDougall, MacDougall & MacTier told CBC News. "We’d anticipated it was going to be a bad quarter and maybe even below estimates, but not to this magnitude."

Many analysts say the BlackBerry 10 series was a little too late in response to a smartphone market where many consumers have already placed their loyalty with other brands.

BlackBerry has said it will change its focus, going from six to four handsets and focusing on the enterprise and pro-sumer market.

"I think that’s a precursor of getting out of the handset business entirely," telecom analyst Carmi Levy told CBC News.

In future, Levy said, he sees a much smaller and leaner BlackBerry, focusing on a few key businesses, most likely software and services. Levy said the release this weekend of BlackBerry Messenger for Android and iOS could be a glimpse into the company's future.

"The company is going to undergo a rapid and radical downsizing and restructuring whether it likes it or not. It has to if it wants to survive in some form," he said. "As a full-line handset maker that competes against Apple and Google and others, I think those days are over."

While acknowledging the difficulties and challenges faced by BlackBerry, Crandall said the overall health of the company is not entirely bleak.

"This isn’t a Nortel situation. Nortel had debt. The good thing about BlackBerry, it has no debt and it actually has a fair amount of cash," he said, but added that it is burning through that cash quickly.

Cash on hand has fallen to $2.6 billion at the end of the second quarter, down from $3.1 billion in the previous quarter.

"Since it has no debt, the company does have value. Just the cash alone — the company has value. It still does have a business. That’s the big question mark. What’s the value of this business?"

While the value of the handset business continues to decline, the services business, which was a recurring revenue stream up until the release of the BlackBerry 10 operating system, still has value, Crandall said. And in the last quarter, the company said it had 72 million subscribers.

BlackBerry also has patents, but those are difficult to value, Crandall said, because many companies already have the patents they need "to continue down the smartphone road." For example, Google bought Motorola to get its patents and Microsoft is tied up with Nokia.

“They probably see [BlackBerry's patents] as a nice to have, not as a need.”

Last month, the company announced its board has launched a formal review of its "strategic alternatives," including the possibility of selling the smartphone company. But with all its troubles, it may have difficulties attracting a buyer.

"I don't think there's a single potential acquirer," Salmon, the Reuters blogger said. "Who would want to throw good money after bad?"

"Would somebody be interested in still buying this company as a whole or would they be interested in buying it in parts," Crandall said. "And I think we’re now at the stage where parts is probably the direction in which this is going to go."

The patents could be sold off separately in partial chunks, the network could be sold off, BlackBerry Messenger could be spun off as a separate company, and licensing the software may have some value, he said. But the hardware business has little value, he added.

Levy said everyone is now waiting for news of what happens next structurally.

"There's a huge chunk of the story that’s yet to be told, and there still a lot of investors who believe that even in a cut-up, partial form, there’s value there. And they’ll hang around."

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