A prominent industry analyst has cut his price target and profit estimates for Research In Motion Ltd. ahead of the company's fourth-quarter earnings release because of what he says is "a greater than 50 per cent chance" that the smartphone giant will negatively pre-announce the quarter and is now selling far fewer BlackBerrys than expected.
Perhaps more importantly, Jeffries analyst Peter Misek hints that the Waterloo, Ont.,-based company's international growth, which has fueled RIM's rise and carried the company through its recent struggles, may be at risk.
RIM doesn't report its fourth quarter earnings until March 29, but Mr. Misek has lowered his estimates well below the Street's consensus based on checks and surveys that indicate RIM won't live up to its previous guidance. He now says he expects RIM to sell only 10.5-million units and pull in $4.2-billion in revenue, compared to RIM's guidance of nearly 12-million units and between $4.6-billion and $4.9-billion in revenue. Mr. Misek's target price is now just $12, a far cry from the stock's 52-week high above $65.
"We believe higher-end handsets are doing poorly outside of Enterprise sales with continued iPhone 4S and Android momentum (especially Samsung) causing issues," Mr. Misek wrote in a note to clients.
As RIM's growth in the United States has stalled and its share of the smartphone market has shrunk to previously unknown levels, RIM has relied on overseas sales in markets where many people are buying their first smartphones and the BlackBerry brand is still strong. But Mr. Misek sees continuing pressure in developed markets for RIM's high-end devices, even as sales begin to deteriorate in the fast-paced emerging markets that have carried RIM through the last year of turmoil -- including missed guidance, botched product launches, and public relations disasters.
"We believe RIM's low-end handset sales trends have continued to deteriorate in North America, Latin America and Europe," he wrote. "In particular, sales in Europe decreased significantly towards the end of the quarter. We believe this is very negative as sales outside of the U.S. had typically been more resilient. Our checks indicate that sales in Asia seem to be okay."
If Mr. Misek's checks are correct, it could be disaster for the company: RIM's long-time co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie stepped down in January and helped promote the company's chief operating officer into the leadership role -- Thorsten Heins, who some credit with orchestrating much of RIM's successful overseas push.
But some analysts have pointed out that much of RIM's dominance in markets such as Argentina, Asia and African countries came at a time when there was little serious smartphone competition: Nokia, which has only recently put out devices running Microsoft's Windows Phone platform, had huge share but devices that were not compelling; Android was nowhere to be seen; and Apple was concentrating on more developed markets such as the U.S. and U.K.
When RIM reports later this month, few expect that the company's newest BlackBerrys -- those running the BlackBerry 7 operating system, such as the touch screen Bold 9900 -- will have fueled the U.S. comeback that Mr. Lazaridis mentioned back in an earnings conference call in December. More importantly, many will focus on the growth metrics in emerging market to see whether the overseas growth that was mitigating RIM's slow sales in the U.S. is still a significant factor.