RIM plots layoffs, cuts fiscal year earnings outlook; PlayBook a bright spot

RIM cuts its earnings and revenue outlook for the fiscal year and plans layoffs as it streamlines. Product delays are killing the company, but at least PlayBook sales are better than expected.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Research in Motion said it will cut jobs and streamline its operations in an effort to get products to market faster. The company's first quarter revenue fell short of expectations and it cut its outlook for the fiscal year.

The BlackBerry maker reported earnings of $695 million, or $1.33 a share, on revenue of $4.9 billion. Wall Street was expecting earnings of $1.32 a share on revenue of $5.15 billion.

According to co-CEO Jim Balsillie, the fiscal year has "gotten off to a challenging start. The slowdown we saw in the first quarter is continuing into Q2. Product delays---notably a new set of BlackBerries---will be delayed into the "very late part of August." On the conference call, Balsillie was joined by co-CEO Mike Lazaridis, who was on deck to talk technology and product roadmaps.

Related: RIM: New BlackBerry devices will be 'worth the wait'

Balsillie emphasized that the co-CEO arrangement worked for RIM and few companies could have weathered such a dramatic product transition. "We know what we have to do jointly," said Lazaridis. He acknowledged that RIM is going through a tough time and that some decisions are hard to understand from outside the company.

As a result of the dismal results, RIM will cut costs including a headcount reduction. RIM has to cut costs because ongoing product delays hamper growth and the fiscal 2012 outlook is well below expectations.

The company projected that fiscal second quarter revenue will be between $4.2 billion and $4.8 billion with earnings of 75 cents a share to $1.05 a share. Wall Street was looking for earnings of $1.40 a share on revenue of $5.46 billion. For fiscal 2012, RIM expects earnings of $5.25 to $6 a share. Wall Street was looking for $6.29 a share and just a quarter ago, Balsillie was talking about annual earnings of $7 a share.

Wall Street analysts were expecting RIM to cut the fiscal 2012 outlook, but not to that degree.

The lone bright spot for RIM was sales of the PlayBook. RIM sold 500,000 tablets, well ahead of Wall Street estimates of 300,000 to 400,000. Balsillie said that 105,000 enterprise customers had the PlayBook and RIM was working on joint-sales arrangements with SAP, Verizon and others. The company shipped 13.2 million BlackBerry devices in the quarter.

However, PlayBook sell-through remains a mystery. "We don't have specific numbers on PlayBook sell-through, but we are very pleased with the sell-through and we are very pleased with the seating in the corporations," said Balsillie.

To support its shares, RIM said that it has authorized a plan to buy up to 5 percent of outstanding shares over the next year. RIM said that it has nearly $3 billion in cash and buying back shares won't hurt its growth plans.

As for afterhours trading, RIM shares took a hit.

The big question for RIM going forward is whether a new set of BlackBerry devices as well as QNX-based superphones in 2012 can revive the company. Balsillie said RIM is poised for growth in the last two quarters of its fiscal year, but that assumes these products will be successful. For now, RIM has another more than two months of pain ahead as it waits for new products to hit carriers.

Without those new devices, RIM is in limbo on the revenue front. And the later those devices come, the more likely RIM’s “superphones,” devices based on the QNX operating system, will slip farther into 2012. Morgan Stanley analyst Ehud Gelblum says RIM is mired in a “continued product vacuum.”

By the numbers for the first quarter:

  • Cash flow from operations in the first quarter was about $1 billion.
  • Gross margins were 43.9 percent, down from 45.4 percent a year ago.
  • Research and development spending was $423 million, up from $288 million a year ago.


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