Shares of beleaguered smartphone giant BlackBerry (NYSE:BB) have sunk lower after the having reached a 52-week high of $18.32 on Jan. 24. The stock is down more than 20% over the past two months. However, shares are still up 140% since reaching bottom at $6.22 last September. Investors are wondering what's next. But that's where things get complicated.
"Pretty good" is not as good as "Wow!"
BlackBerry faced an uphill battle. The company needed to remove the negative stigma that's been associated with its name. The company, formerly known as Research In Motion, had become the "new Palm," the once-dominant smartphone manufacturer that was killed off by BlackBerry.
Today, however, it is BlackBerry that's suffering the same morbid fate as Palm. This time, it's at the hands of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Samsung. Remarkably, even Microsoft's Windows Phone has surpassed BlackBerry. However, BlackBerry had an ace called BB10, the new platform that was going to revolutionize the company. Investors bought into the idea. After numerous product delays, on Jan. 30, the company finally unveiled the phone. Unfortunately, the bar was set too high. The reception was underwhelming. The Street expected "Wow!" The company, however, delivered "pretty good."
This was unacceptable, especially for BlackBerry, which had the impossible task of coming back from the dead. The launch fell short of the "Lazarus" quality that the Street expected. The phone, while pretty good, offered no new mobile experience. And the stock got punished for it -- falling as much as 25% the following day.
Who are we kidding here?
Current BlackBerry users were impressed. But that's not saying much. BlackBerry did not present anything that would cause a non-BlackBerry user to switch from Apple or Samsung. This point was very evident last week when the phones when on sale in the U.S. for the first time. The so-called "buzz," long lines, tents, overnight sleeping bags -- things that have become standard with product launches from Apple and Samsung -- were nowhere to be seen for BlackBerry.
Granted, this is not a predictor of success. And BlackBerry enthusiasts will argue that this "buzz" is not needed. I don't buy it. Neither does the Street. The company has sold investors on the idea that the new phones and platform can revive its fight against Apple and Google. But investors yawned. BlackBerry bulls are now suggesting that whether or not the company is able to steal market share from Apple or Samsung does not matter. Then what's the point, especially after the company has waged its entire future on BB10?
BlackBerry can't survive solely on the support of its existing users. The company's ability to attract new customers away from competing devices is how BlackBerry will be judged. And the Street doesn't feel confident that the new phonecan do that, which explains the 17% sell-off last week once the device finally hit the stores. Unfortunately, the sell-off may not be over.
A new name, new era -- what to expect?
The company begins a new era under its new name and ticker when BlackBerry announces its fiscal fourth-quarter earnings results this Thursday for the period ending March 2. No one knows what to expect.
Estimates are all over the map. The Street has had a hard time pinning down sales figures for BlackBerry's Z10 phones, which launched globally earlier in the quarter. For instance, Wells Fargo expects the company to report a loss of $0.23 per share on revenue of $2.99 billion. Raymond James sees a loss of $0.17 on $3 billion in revenue.
As far as devices sales are concerned for the Z10, the figures range from 500,000 units from Sterne Agee to 1 million projected by BMO Capital. There is no real consensus. This may or may not matter, however. The company is coming off a decent third quarter -- reporting a net loss of $0.22 per share on revenue of $2.7 billion, which beat on both top and bottom line estimates.
Meanwhile, the underwhelming phone launch notwithstanding, investors should feel encouraged that management has made considerable operational improvements. BlackBerry has been growing cash at an impressive rate, including amassing close to $2.7 billion in the third quarter, with zero debt. Unfortunately, this does not address the lack of consumer appeal. And investors should be prepared for what the company will reveal about the success of its new flagship product.