BlackBerry’s Surprise Profit Hides a Couple of Problems

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Although earnings surprised on the plus side this morning, BlackBerry (NASDAQ: BBRY) reported lower unit shipments than analysts were looking for, and its subscriber number also fell from last quarter. Not a very auspicious start for the renamed company with the brand new smartphone.

The smartphone maker reported quarterly diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $0.19 on revenues of $2.68 billion. In the same period a year ago, RIM reported an EPS loss of $0.24 on revenue of $2.73 billion. Fourth-quarter results compare to the FactSet consensus estimates for an EPS loss of $0.30 and $2.8 billion in revenue.

On an adjusted basis, the company posted EPS of $0.22, which does not include pretax charges of $29 million for the company’s Cost Optimization and Resource Efficiency program.

For the full year the company reported an EPS loss of $1.20 on revenues of $11.1 billion. On an adjusted basis, EPS came in at $0.60.

The company’s CEO said:

We have implemented numerous changes at BlackBerry over the past year and those changes have resulted in the Company returning to profitability in the fourth quarter. … As we go into our new fiscal year, we are excited with the opportunities for the BlackBerry 10 platform, and the commitments we are seeing from our global developers and partners.

The company forecast a 50% sequential increase in marketing expenses for the first quarter of the 2014 fiscal year, and expects a breakeven quarter “based on [BlackBerry’s] lower cost base, more efficient supply chain, and improved hardware margins.”

Gross margins rose to 40.1% in the fourth quarter, from 30.4% in the third quarter and 33.5% from the fourth quarter a year ago. And although the company didn’t provide a firm number for first quarter gross margins, clearly it expects the BlackBerry 10 platform to contribute substantially to margin growth. The company said it sold about 1 million BlackBerry 10 units in the quarter, which really represents only two months since the product’s launch at the end of January. Total shipments came in at 6 million, compared with analysts’ expectations of around 6.8 to 7 million units shipped.

BlackBerry also reported that it now counted 76 million subscribers, down from the 79 million subscribers it reported in the third quarter.

Shares are up 0.2% in premarket trading, at $14.52 in a 52-week range of $6.22 to $18.32. Thomson Reuters had a consensus analyst price target of around $16.00 before today’s results were announced.