Updated from April 2Research In Motion ( RIMM) blew past targets on strong demand for BlackBerry phones and guided up for the May quarter, sending the stock surging. RIM shares jumped more than 20% to $60.58 in premarket trading Friday. The stock closed Thursday at $49.09. The Waterloo, Ontario, smartphone maker posted earnings after the last close of $518.3 million, or 90 cents a share, up from $396.3 million, or 69 cents, in the prior quarter and above the 84-cent profit analysts were looking for. Sales for the fiscal fourth quarter ended last month were $3.46 billion, an 84% increase over year-ago levels and 24% higher than those in prior quarter. Analysts were expecting revenue of $3.4 billion. Gross margin for the February quarter, however, dipped to 39.9%, slightly below the 40% Wall Street had expected. But investors saw it as a sign that the eroding margins of recent quarters have stabilized. Looking ahead, RIM told analysts on a conference call that it expects earnings to be about 88 cents or 89 cents a share. That is down a penny from the 90 cents in the prior quarter, which included the holiday buying season, but it is well above the 83-cent profit analysts were looking for. The company said sales for the May quarter will be flat sequentially with the February quarter at about $3.4 billion, and more than the $3.35 billion analysts had expected. RIM executives said they expect to add about 3.8 million new subscribers in the current quarter ending in May. And gross margins are likely to widen to somewhere between 43% to 44% in the May quarter.
On costs, RIM told analysts that operating expenses will increase 12% in the quarter as the company spends more on research and development and takes on more employees. The increase in spending was predicted last week, by JPMorgan analyst Ehud Gelblum who warned investors that RIM would get bruised in the bigger more competitive consumer market. To keep up, Gelblum predicted that RIM would have to spend more on R&D, which runs nearly twice as high as RIM's current level, at rival outfits like Nokia. Investors had been concerned about gross margins after a terrible recent showing. RIM's shift from its high-spending business-user focus to a broader, costlier consumer smartphone market has crushed margins. In the span of a half year, RIM's gross margins narrowed to 40% from the 50.7%. RIM says it added 3.9 million net new subscriber to its BlackBerry email service, putting the total as 25 million. Some analysts had expected about 3.5 million new subscribers. "We are very pleased to report another record quarter with standout subscriber growth that speaks volumes about the early success and momentum of our new BlackBerry products," Co-CEO Jim Balsillie said in a press release.