Updated from 7:03 a.m. EDT
Wall Street analysts expect
Research In Motion
( RIMM) to show sizable revenue and earnings growth when it reports first-quarter results Wednesday. The key question is how much investors will care.
With a long-running patent dispute headed back to the courts and with competitors threatening to curtail the BlackBerry maker's growth, RIM's earnings report and even its short-term guidance may get short shrift from shareholders. Unfortunately for the company, it may not be able to say much about either issue to assuage nervous investors.
"I'm not really interested in what they report," says Chyanne Fickes, a portfolio manager at Stone Asset Management, which used to be long RIM shares but recently sold off its stake. "I think they have bigger problems."
Fickes isn't the only fund manager who has soured on RIM in recent months. A number of long-time bulls on the stock have decided to
throw in the towel because of uncertainties in the stock's direction and the company's prospects.
And that attitude seems to be playing out in RIM's stock price. In the year to date, shares in the wireless email device maker and service provider have been off roughly 7% despite the fact that analysts expect the company to continue to post strong results.
The biggest problem for Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM is its legal dispute with
, which holds a portfolio of patents covering wireless email systems. Earlier this month, RIM
announced the disintegration of a
settlement agreement it reached in March with NTP.
RIM is asking that the court system enforce the agreement. But with the dispute returning to the courts, RIM runs the risk of something much worse happening than having to pay the $450 million the company agreed to as part of the settlement.
A district court has already found that
RIM infringed NTP's patents, a decision that was largely upheld on appeal. As part of the return to the courts, NTP could again seek an injunction against RIM -- already granted by the district court, but set aside on appeal -- that would prevent RIM from offering its BlackBerry service in the U.S.
"There's lots of headline risk there," says Duncan Stewart, a fund manager at Tera Capital in Toronto, which has traded in and out of RIM but currently has no position in the company's shares.
But NTP isn't the only problem for RIM.
plans to update its Exchange email server later this year and include in it a feature that will essentially duplicate RIM's BlackBerry email service. Meanwhile, the company is likely to see growing competition on the device side from the likes of
"We're going to see more inroads into their business," says Fickes. "I love the company, I love the product, but there's lots of competition out there."
Even so, there was evidence of the positive effect of the expensive takeover. Applications maintenance revenue jumped by 160% to $622 million. Since few, if any, customers are showing signs of backing away from maintenance agreements, the company said, Oracle will continue to reap substantial ongoing revenues in the future. And that, say analysts, was one of the key goals of the acquisition.
"I think that's the dark cloud," says Rothbort, who also sold his shares of RIM recently and holds no position in the company. "I honestly think management is more focused on NTP and less focused on palmOne."
Even with this year's selloff, and its
disappointing last quarter, RIM is still trading around 31 times its expected earnings for the year. In contrast, palmOne is valued at roughly 17 times its current-year earnings, and wireless giant Nokia is trading around 16 times this year's expected profits. That disparity could well mean that RIM's shares will take a hit if it misses earnings -- or if the news gets any darker on the legal or competitive fronts.
"I can't imagine they would disappoint
with the earnings report, but if they did, it would be an absolute disaster," says Fickes.
Assuming that the company doesn't miss estimates, investors who can turn a blind eye to the other issues may find a lot to like in RIM's report.
On average, analysts polled by Thomson First Call are expecting the company to post 55 cents in earnings on $452.15 million in sales for the quarter. The company predicted in April that it would earn 51 cents to 56 cents a share in the current quarter on sales ranging from $430 million to $455 million. RIM has not disclosed how the failure of its recent settlement talks will affect earnings for the just-completed and coming quarters.
In the same period a year ago, RIM
earned $54.97 million, or 28 cents a share, on sales of $269.61 million.
And analysts are expecting strong growth in coming quarters. In the current, or fiscal second quarter, Wall Street has forecast that RIM will earn 61 cents a share on $482.13 million in sales. For the full fiscal year, analysts are expecting $2.49 a share in profits on sales of $2.04 billion.
RIM has predicted that it will earn 57 cents to 63 cents a share in its current quarter on sales of $460 million to $485 million. But the lawsuit issue could affect that outlook.
In the year-ago second quarter, RIM earned $70.59 million, or 36 cents a share, on $310.18 million in sales. For the full year, the company earned $213.39 million, or $1.09 a share, on sales of $1.35 billion.
Shares of RIMM gained $1.14 to close Tuesday's regular session at $76.60.