For BlackBerry (BBRY) watchers, the pleas from CEO Thorsten Heins for more time have become all too familiar. More time to release BB10 phones to all markets, more time for new models to hit the pipeline, more time for its new BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10 to roll out to corporate and government clients. More time to turn the company around.
Amid the impatience and continued bad headlines, news hit last Friday that BlackBerry was exploring going private. Doing so would theoretically take the investor pressure off Heins so he could focus on the turnaround instead of constantly pleading for patience.
All bets are off today. Trading on BBRY was temporarily halted this morning as news broke that the company has effectively put itself up for sale.
In a press release put out by BlackBerry this morning, the company announced that its board of directors had created a special committee to explore options that could include “possible joint ventures, strategic partnerships or alliances, a sale of the Company or other possible transactions.”
In addition, the company noted that Prem Watsa, chairman and CEO of Fairfax Financial (FRFHF) — the company that doubled its investment in BBRY in January and now holds a roughly 10% stake — is stepping down from BlackBerry’s board to avoid potential conflicts in the process. Naturally, this leads to the assumption that Fairfax and Watsa could be interested in buying the company.
All of this raises the question of whether BlackBerry is worth buying, something individual investors have been pondering for the past year.
CEO Heins was quoted in the press release as saying: “We continue to see compelling long-term opportunities for BlackBerry 10, we have exceptional technology that customers are embracing, we have a strong balance sheet and we are pleased with the progress that has been made in our transition.”
In other words, the same placating words about progress combined with the same refrain about the longer-term: patience.
But does BlackBerry have the time? In Q2 2012, the beleaguered company sold 7.7 million smartphones. Those were the outdated models that were several years behind the competition in a market where BlackBerry faithful were holding off as long as they could in anticipation of hot new BB10 models. Fast-forward to Q2 2013, and the rebranded company is six months into its turnaround, the new BB10 phones running the next-generation operating system are on the market and yet sales dropped to 6.8 million. Instead of a surge, the turnaround efforts netted a 12% decline in sales.
Meanwhile Microsoft’s (MSFT) Windows Phone — despite a slow start and having only one major supporting smartphone manufacturer in Nokia (NOK) — has overtaken BlackBerry for third place in global market share. And as tablets continue their assault on the enterprise and home PC market, BlackBerry has abandoned its PlayBook and ceded that market for all intents and purposes.
What’s left that’s worth buying?