RIM's 3Q Earnings: 5 Things To Watch

RIM's 3Q: How Many Subscribers?

 @DavidZie on December 19 2012 2:49 PM

When BlackBerry developer Research in Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) reports third-quarter results late Thursday, there will be several “known knowns,” in the immortal words of former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

One is that the Waterloo, Ontario-based smartphone and tablet developer will report another loss. Another will be that it won't have any sales in the period ended Dec. 2 for its much anticipated BlackBerry 10 smartphone.

But what about the key unknowns that may become known when the former high-flier, which controlled 50 percent of the smartphone sector as late as 2009, reports its results? Here are five things to watch:

How high is the company's loss? Analysts generally expect RIM, since January under the leadership of Thorsten Heins, 54, to report a net loss of 36 cents a share on revenue of $2.65 billion, compared with prior-year net income of $1.27 a share on revenue of $5.2 billion.

Last quarter, there was a big surprise, when RIM's loss was smaller than expected and revenue was higher. So there could be another surprise.

Still, with no new smartphone selling now against the best-selling Galaxy S3 from Samsung Electronics (KRX:005930) and the iPhone 5 from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), it's hard to see where sales surprises come from.

To be sure, RIM has been conducting a pre-sale campaign for the BlackBerry 10 in developed countries using print ads and advocacy software. Analyst Shaw Wu of Sterne Agee estimates that the company spent $655.8 million on sales and marketing, down about $50 million from a year ago.

How many subscribers does RIM have? Last quarter, RIM surprised Wall Street by reporting 80 million subscribers, 2 million above the first quarter, when the number was expected to fall.

Analysts expect the number to rise by about 500,000, which could include new enterprise customers whose employers depend on older model BlackBerry 7 units, as well as consumers, seeking a cheaper phone with proven, secure e-mail.

Indeed, RIM this week announced that 120 enterprises were testing out the new phone, including government agencies such as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, which also has been using its first iPhones.

RIM's enterprise management network, which the company operates, has been found to be unusually secure, a prerequisite for government use as well as for finance, law and other sectors that embraced BlackBerry from the outset.

Can the BlackBerry 10 return the company to profit? CEO Heins has predicted it and even promised that fiscal 2014 will be profitable. Shares of RIM have skyrocketed nearly 90 percent in the past three months and are up nearly 6 percent over the past 52 weeks.

Clearly, some investors are betting the new phone and its U.S.-bought OS from QNX Software, a unit of Harman International (NYSE:HAR), are hits. Developers have been devising apps for OS for the past six months.

Seven analysts have “buy” recommendations on the shares, while 15 have “sells,” with the remaining 23 analysts rating it “neutral,” Thomson Reuters reports.

Will the Jan. 30 shipment date stick? That could be crucial for the company. Heins has already advanced the date two months, moving the shipment date to the last month of the company's fiscal year.

The company has stuck by the Jan. 30 date in its promotions, but early shipments might improve finances, especially if some of the enterprises testing the new phone accept it, which would require payment.

What is the outlook? Heins will surely be asked for the company's outlook on sales of the new model, as well as any new versions of the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, which sold only 130,000 units in the second quarter. He may also be asked about early technical reviews on the product as well as from consumer sites that publish recommendations around launch time.

Earlier this year, RIM faced demands for a sale or break-up from minority investors Jaguar Financial and Omega Advisers, which both own stakes just below 5 percent.

But following the ouster of co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, new directors, and plans to trim costs and the payroll, they've been supportive, especially as the share price has risen.

Shares of RIM fell 7 cents to $13.65 in late Wednesday trading, valuing the company at $7.15 billion.

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