BlackBerry Limited (BBRY), known as Research in Motion (RIM) until July 2013, has gone through several cycles of success and failures. Accounting for the 3:1 stock split in August 2007, the BlackBerry stock price has effectively tanked from the highs of $84 to around $9 at present. How did a high-flying revolutionary tech company get eclipsed so badly?
The pioneer in bringing email services to handheld mobiles with its trademark QWERTY keyboard, BlackBerry instantly became the darling of world leaders, corporate honchos, and the rich and famous alike. Not so long ago, owing a BlackBerry device was a status symbol, and BlackBerry addiction was a prevalent condition.
The always-on, always-connected wireless world that allowed secure and reliable access to emails turned out to be very useful for businesses. The first prominent release from BlackBerry, the Inter@ctive Pager 950, was in 1998. It had a small-sized screen, keyboard buttons, and the iconic trackball that allowed seamless syncing and continuous access to corporate emails. It became an instant hit, and then there was no looking back. In 1999, the company introduced the 850 pager, which supported “push email” from Microsoft Corporation’s (MSFT) exchange server, and in 2000, BlackBerry launched the first smartphone called the “BlackBerry 957.”
Attributed to the increased use by enterprises and governments, RIM’s revenues grew by leaps and bounds between 1999 and 2001. It continued to expand functionality in the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) and BlackBerry OS. The golden period of 2001 to 2007 saw BlackBerry’s global expansion and the addition of new products to its portfolio. After successfully gaining foothold in the enterprise market, it expanded into consumer market. The BlackBerry “Pearl” series was very successful, and subsequent releases of “Curve” and “Bold” product-lines were well received.
The Game Changer
BlackBerry stock prices peaked to all time high of $236 around mid-2007. Around the same time, Apple, Inc. (AAPL) introduced its iPhone– the first prominent touchscreen phone. BlackBerry ignored it initially, perceiving it to be an enhanced mobile phone with playful features targeted at younger consumers. However, iPhone turned out to be an instant hit, and this was the start of BlackBerry’s demise.
Not just aimed at individuals, the iPhone managed to attract business leaders, penetrating into BlackBerry’s core market, which was soon flooded with many similar email-enabled smartphones from other manufacturers. Yet, BlackBerry managed to maintain its status of “business email device.” People used to carry two phones—a BlackBerry for business, and another personal phone.
BlackBerry did introduce “Storm” in 2008, its first touchscreen phone to complete with iPhone and the likes. But after high initial sales, complaints started pouring in about the device’s performance. This was the first time investors, analysts, and the media started to worry about the business prospects of BlackBerry.
In 2009, RIM secured first place in Fortune’s 100 fastest growing companies. In September 2010, comScore reported RIM having the largest market share (37.3%) in the US smartphone market. Its global user-base stood at 36 million subscribers. Unfortunately, that was the peak month for RIM in the US. After that, the company continued to lose ground to Apple iOS and Google’s (GOOG) Android, and was never able to make it back.
By November 2012, BlackBerry’s US market share had dropped to just 7.3%, with Google and Apple claiming 53.7% and 35% market share respectively. Despite declining US sales, BlackBerry continued to have success globally. It reported 79 million users globally during the last quarter of 2012, demonstrating its success in global expansion.
Owing to these local losses versus global success, the stock prices had high volatility. The worst year was 2011, as BlackBerry stock price tanked 80 percent. A patent infringement case verdict against BlackBerry led to sudden dip in July 2011. Continued losses led to further declines – most prominently the first quarter loss in 2013 of $84 million, which lead to a 28% decline in share prices on announcement day.
Comeback Attempts And Other Developments
The high volatility in stock prices during the last five years is attributed to several comeback attempts, corporate developments, associated recommendations by analysts, and competitor developments. In April 2010, RIM acquired the real-time operating system QNX, which formed the basis of the BlackBerry Tablet OS. The BlackBerry Playbook tablet was introduced on the QNX platform. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a total failure, due to its high-price, low-feature, and low-performance.
The next generation BlackBerry phones were announced in 2011, but the eventual product, the BlackBerry 10, failed to catch on. Nonetheless, based on interim forecasts that the BlackBerry 10 would surpass sales predictions, the company’s stock saw an upswing of 14% in November 2012. By January 2013, the stock rose around 50%, and the high volatility continued.
During the last nine years, BlackBerry made 17 different acquisitions to add features and improve offerings through its products, including QNX, Scroon, Scoreloop, and Gist. Such developments were reflected in stock price swings.
The competing products based on Apple iOS, Google Android, and recently launched Windows mobile platforms fared much better, which led to declines in BlackBerry stock prices. Fairfax Financial agreed to purchase BlackBerry for $4.7 billion and take it private, but that news also failed to stop the decline of BlackBerry.
On the other hand, wide positive swings to the tune of +35% were observed couple of times during the first half of 2014. Those were based on announcements of BlackBerry transforming from mobile devices to a mobile solutions company. None of those plans have actually materialized. CNN listed it as one of six most endangered brands in later half of 2014, but another swing was to come in January 2015 when it was reported that Samsung was interested in buying BlackBerry. This led to a 30% spike in latter’s share price .
The Bottom Line
BlackBerry is an example of the big risks associated with the highly dynamic technology sector. None of the industry rankings, predictions, or recommendations seems to fit the BlackBerry stock play. Long-term investors have been burned, while only a few traders may have made money on the wide swings. Unless confirmed news of solid acquisition or partnership comes in, this stock will remain a pure trader’s play.