AT&T ( T) confirmed fears that widespread corporate layoffs would eventually cut into Research In Motion's ( RIMM) BlackBerry growth.
On an earnings call with analysts Wednesday, AT&T said "we've seen some reduction in company-paid wireless devices," particularly at large businesses. There's really only one company-paid wireless device that fits that description: BlackBerry. RIM had already been bruised entering the consumer market, where it's been jostled by heavy competition and punished by painful price wars. Now, it seems, the lucrative safety of its business niche is under pressure. This is negative for RIM, JPMorgan analyst Ehud Gelblum wrote in a note Wednesday. Gelblum put a sell rating on RIM last month, citing, among other things, rising unemployment that could cause BlackBerry growth to "slow considerably and potentially even fall." AT&T had more favorable news for Apple ( AAPL) fans, saying it activated 1.6 million iPhones in the quarter, down from the 1.9 million in the prior period, but still solid. But this would be the first time AT&T ever talked about a slowdown associated with RIM. The challenges on the corporate-user side could blindside RIM investors, who earlier this month were treated to a guidance raising party. RIM boosted its earnings target to 88 cents a share, a nickel above analysts' estimates. JPMorgan sees an entirely different scenario from the one RIM outlined. "RIM's net adds and devices shipments could slow down over the next few quarters as we move past the new product upgrade cycle that began last year," Gelblum writes. To offset that trend, RIM is expected to introduce new phones, but as the touchscreen BlackBerry Storm showed , new products tend to cost more to produce and therefore cut into profits.