After drifting lower for most of this week, BlackBerry shares got a nice boost in the last two trading days thanks to two analyst upgrades. For those keeping track, the stock is now hovering around $14.50, which is about a buck higher than Wednesday’s close.
French investment bank Société Générale upgraded BlackBerry from a sell to a buy rating on Thursday morning. The analyst at SocGen believes BlackBerry sold about 4 million Z10 devices in the quarter than just ended, which would be an increase from only one million last quarter.
One million to 4 million sounds excellent, and remember that the Z10 only hit the market at the end of January, giving BlackBerry one month to generate sales in the last set of quarterly numbers. The numbers should obviously climb given the full quarter of availability and the global launch of the device. But at the same time momentum may have cooled because of the release of other new all-touch phones on the market like the Galaxy S4 and HTC One.
SocGen also thinks BlackBerry will have sold 1 million Q10 devices in the quarter, which also reflects much less than a full quarter of availability. SocGen’s channel checks are the reason they upgraded the stock.
Separately, this morning, Wells Fargo also upgraded the stock based on their checks which suggest a strong Q10 launch in the US market. They peg total BlackBerry 10 device sales at 3.5 million for the quarter, which is lower than SocGen’s 5 million estimate. Wells Fargo thinks BlackBerry shares are worth $19-20. I should also point out that their analyst, Maynard Um, has a good reputation. I don’t know him personally but during my years in the industry the smart people I looked up to only had great things to say about him and his ability to dig into stocks.
It’s probably worth pointing out that these two banks are large institutions. This doesn’t make them better or worse, just less likely to be influenced by any single client (or small group of clients) who may have an agenda other than formulating a correct investment opinion.
If SocGen is right, and BlackBerry ships 4 million Z10s and 1 million Q10s, I think it would be a tremendously positive sign. What happens if BlackBerry can ship 4 million Z10s and and 4 million Q10s next quarter (after the Q fully ramps)? What happens when the Q5 hits emerging markets? We could be looking at a very rapid acceleration of BlackBerry 10 devices... devices that we know have very good gross margin levels compared to BBOS hardware.
As much as I’d like to see SocGen’s estimates prove to be correct, they seem a bit aggressive to me. On Wednesday of this week BlueFin Research Partners put out a note with a fairly negative tone. BlueFin says that BlackBerry just cut Z10 production by another 20%. But what they don’t really talk about is the Q10, which I think is offsetting all of the Z10 slowdown and then some.
BlackBerry will report its Q1 results for the quarter ended June 1st in two weeks, on Friday June 28th before the market opens. It’s not going to be a clean quarter. We’re in a heavy transition period here, and we will continue to be for the next few quarters. As BlackBerry 10 volumes ramp up we’ll see improved gross margin on hardware and a strong offsetting drop in BIS service revenue. This will lead to continued conflicting views on Wall Street as the bulls focus on new hardware growth and the bears point to the weakening service business and a lack of confidence in long term sustainability of the hardware model.
Since the Q10 has launched I think it’s become increasingly clear that there is heavy demand for physical QWERTY devices from BlackBerry customers. I think BlackBerry’s #1 focus needs to be migrating its customer base to BlackBerry 10. If those users prefer physical keyboards, so be it. It’s far more important to get all of your customers onto a modern BlackBerry experience because they’re the source of much word of mouth advertising and hands-on peer to peer marketing. If BlackBerry can’t get its core users to upgrade, they are in huge trouble. That’s why I’m so pleased to see strong Q10 demand and the upcoming Q5 launch.
In the next week or so we should see several more analyst notes. This is the season for quarterly preview notes. As I review them I’ll post my thoughts here on CrackBerry.