RIM's stock is in retreat. Here's why

The BlackBerry maker reported better-than-expected results, yet the stock is down today. What gives?

CNET

Research in Motion's stock, which has had an impressive run over the past few months, appears to have finally gotten tripped up.

The BlackBerry maker's shares fell more than 14 percent today, a day after reporting fiscal third-quarter results that investors considered better than expected. The stock recently fell $2 to $12.08.

If you look beyond the basic revenue and profit, RIM's performance in the quarter gave reason for Wall Street to be concerned. Ultimately, these results matter little; what will determine the company's fate will be the success or failure of its BlackBerry 10 operating system and its first run of BlackBerry 10 smartphones.

But here are some reasons why the stock is performing so poorly today:

Subscriber loss
RIM has long boasted of its loyal customer base, but the last quarter showed the limits of that loyalty. For the first time, RIM saw its subscriber base shrink, falling 1 million to 79 million. That number may seem small relative to the overall base, but it's a crucial indication that the growth it is seeing overseas may no longer be enough to offset losses in its more mature markets. That also suggests the loss of customers in its home markets is happening faster than expected -- analysts had projected RIM to actually add customers in the period.

"We see continued pressure on volumes and BB10 acceptance is uncertain," said Ittai Kidron, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co.

Services revenue in question
RIM has long been able to charge lofty fees for its secure BlackBerry business services, but that may change with BlackBerry 10. RIM CEO Thorsten Heins, speaking on a conference call last night, sounded unsure about the company's ability to protect those fees. The company has already warned that those fees will likely be cut in order to retain and grow its customer base amid the transition to BlackBerry 10. But the bigger question is whether RIM will still be able to command such high fees once BlackBerry 10 is established.

"(RIM's) high-margin services business will likely see pressure as it transitions to new terms and pricing," said Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu.

Service fees are typically more profitable than hardware, so cutbacks there would deal a major blow to RIM's hoped-for return to profitability.

Stock run-up
RIM's stock has had a heck of a run recently, outperforming even rival Apple (which, of course, has a far, far higher market value). Since late September, the stock had more than doubled in value as confidence in the BlackBerry 10 platform rose. The company fueled some of those good vibes by dropping progress reports like carrier testing and federal agencies using it in trials.

With such a strong run, the stock was priced to perfection, as investors would say. Wall Street just needs the slightest hint of weakness as an excuse to start selling off.

Cash concerns
Next quarter is going to be a rough one. RIM will launch its first BlackBerry 10 smartphone, but sales won't likely kick off until later in the quarter, meaning it won't see much of an impact from a financial perspective. BlackBerry 7 smartphone sales will likely tank as consumers hold off to see the next-generation products.

In the meantime, RIM will have to spend a lot of cash to promote the product, so its balance sheet could take a hit.

Still, Heins said the company would end the fiscal year, which closes in March, with more cash than it started with, something investors like to see.

About the author

Roger Cheng is the executive editor in charge of breaking news for CNET News. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade. He's a devoted Trojan alum and Los Angeles Lakers fan.

 

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