For the last eight years, ever since Blackberry (NYSE:BB) stock became a lemon, John Chen has been making lemonade from it, mostly for himself.
Chen has been CEO of the Canadian company since 2013. This was after the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone had destroyed Blackberry’s market in mobile.
There it had dominated the high-end in the old Nokia (NYSE:NOK) days, becoming beloved by TV lawyers and President Barack Obama.
Chen has turned Blackberry into a cyber-security company. He calls it “Intelligent Security Everywhere.” It’s built around his old operating system, QNX, now pitched as a secure microkernel architecture. He has also turned QNX into an infotainment system for cars.
But I think you would be a fool to invest in BB stock.
A Closer Look at BB Stock
Chen’s Blackberry is a no-growth company that mostly seems to exist to send money flowing to John Chen. He arrived in 2013 after getting Sybase sold for $5.8 billion, a feat once thought impossible after the database company was steamrollered by Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL).
He uses his Twitter feed to tout Blackberry’s accomplishments, but making money for shareholders isn’t among them. Blackberry had about two-thirds the revenue in fiscal 2021 that it had in 2017, losing about $1.25 billion each time. The Canadian Looney is doing better against the dollar today, so the latest loss is smaller.
But you can’t prove that from his pay packet, which zooms with every rally in BB stock and doesn’t seem to suffer when the price goes down. He signed a contract extension in 2018 with fat stock awards vesting when the stock hit $16-20.
The rally didn’t last. Almost as soon as a Reddit user named “Uncle Ziggy” flogged it, the share price headed down, with shorts piling in.
Because Blackberry is relatively small and almost a joke, its small moves get big publicity. The company is called “a leader in enterprise mobility management,” and is said to have “taken over the automobile industry.” It is also said to be a leader in healthcare.
If this is all true, where are the profits? Blackberry has managed to lose $2.17/share over the last four quarters (CAD$ 2.62). It is expecting another loss when it announces May earnings on June 29.
Chen kept interest in his stock alive during his most recent earnings call by teasing the sale of its mobile patents. But the company doesn’t need the cash, as our Mark Hake wrote recently. It’s cash flow that’s the problem, and that seems to be falling.
Our Matt McCall also wanted to know what the Redditors were smoking and came away empty. For all the buzzwords like “IoT” and “cybersecurity leadership” Chen tosses around on his Twitter feed, there’s no bottom-line evidence that his reinvention is working.
The Bottom Line
Larry Ramer thinks Blackberry might do better if it changed its name.
I don’t think so. Chen has been playing a weak hand from the start. He hasn’t improved the underlying technology. He has just re-sold it in new forms.
At some point, Blackberry will be sold because Chen is now 65 and ready to retire. A sale would likely put a lot of money into his pocket. But if you’re in the stock waiting for that, you’re in a Beckett play. You’re waiting for a profit, and a prophet, that’s not going to show up.
On the date of publication, Dana Blankenhorn held a LONG position in AAPL. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.
Dana Blankenhorn has been a financial and technology journalist since 1978. He is the author of Technology’s Big Bang: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow with Moore’s Law, available at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet him at @danablankenhorn, or subscribe to his Substack https://danafblankenhorn.substack.com/.