BlackBerry Returns to Its Roots With This Recent Move

BlackBerry plans to double down on keyboards as its turnaround continues.

Jan 8, 2014 at 2:42PM

New CEO John Chen has big plans for struggling Canadian smartphone maker BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY). They just don't involve anything new.

In a move that some might find surprising but seems perfectly sensible, Chen recently gave word that BlackBerry's future, if there is indeed to be one, will be rooted firmly in its past -- the keyboard.

Blackberry Q

Source: BlackBerry.

Back to the basics at BlackBerry
In a recent interview with Bloomberg, Chen, who took over as CEO last November, said he sees BlackBerry's future smartphones as "predominantly" keyboard based. 

Chen's decision signals a major reversal from the previous regime, in which then-CEO Thorsen Heins launched several touchscreen handsets in hopes of stemming the mass defection toward other high-end smartphones such as Apple's iPhone Samsung's Galaxy S4.

So far the results have been disastrous at best. Since the second quarter of 2010, BlackBerry's share of the global smartphone market has plummeted from 18% to less than 1% in the third quarter of 2013 according to IDC. During the same period, the global smartphone market has grown by more than 300%. The reasons for BlackBerry's fall from grace have been well documented at this point. Plagued by corporate infighting and a failure to execute, BlackBerry quickly faded from relevance against Apple and Google in the very smartphone market it helped create.

Chen has already made several shrewd moves to help keep BlackBerry afloat since his appointment, and refocusing on keyboards, where the company still has its fair share of loyalists, is clearly another one. However, what's still hugely unclear is just how positive an impact the renewed concentration on keyboards could have on BlackBerry's bleeding bottom line.

Righting the ship
Although BlackBerry's most recent earnings report was about as ugly as they come, Chen also used the report to introduce several key moves. He overhauled BlackBerry's organizational structure centered around four key areas -- enterprise services, messaging, QNX embedded business and devices. Of equal, if not greater, importance, Chen also announced BlackBerry would begin a five-year strategic partnership with hardware assembly giant Foxconn to handle production of its devices. The Foxconn deal alone helps to greatly reduce the massive inventory risks that have plagued BlackBerry over the last several years.

John

Source: Wells Fargo.

The market cheered the news, sending BlackBerry's stock up significantly in reaction to the news. This news, as well as other moves Chen has made since his hiring, has helped paint a picture of a more stable BlackBerry.

But is BlackBerry a buy?
It's without dispute that Chen has done wonders to help stabilize BlackBerry, both operationally and psychologically. BlackBerry stock is up 30% since Chen's arrival, although it still remains firmly in the red over more extended time horizons.

With its current market capitalization currently north of $8 billion, it's still somewhat hard to see how BlackBerry presents an attractive value given its business struggles. Analysts are currently projecting BlackBerry to lose money in each of the next nine fiscal quarters, which is as far out as I can find estimates. And it has plenty of cash on its balance sheet and investors who have shown a willingness to double down to save it.

Looking at valuation more closely, BlackBerry currently holds more than $2 billion in net cash on its balance sheet. Assigning another $2 billion in value to its massive patent portfolio values BlackBerry's operations at roughly $4 billion at least as far as back-of-the-envelope figures are concerned.

At that price, I'm not sure I'd be a buyer, and I'm not alone. Although I always take them with a grain of salt, the average analyst rating of the 33 analysts currently issuing ratings on BlackBerry is $6.75. With BlackBerry's shares currently trading hands at right around $8.50, this represents a pretty significant premium to what the pros believe BlackBerry's worth.

Don't get me wrong. BlackBerry and John Chen certainly deserve some credit for making meaningful progress in turning around the ailing Canadian smartphone maker. However, in looking at BlackBerry from 30,000 feet, I find myself worrying that its stock price might appear overly optimistic where we find it today.

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