BlackBerry, the embattled Canada-based handset maker, today finally called a spade a spade. The company halted trading in its shares to announce what some might argue was inevitable: the company says it is now exploring strategic alternatives, including a possible sale or JV or other partnership. A committee chaired by Timothy Dattels and including CEO Thorsten Heins, along with Barbara Stymiest, Richard Lynch and Bert Nordberg, has been formed to look for alternatives.
“During the past year, management and the Board have been focused on launching the BlackBerry 10 platform and BES 10, establishing a strong financial position, and evaluating the best approach to delivering long-term value for customers and shareholders,” said Dattels in a statement. “Given the importance and strength of our technology, and the evolving industry and competitive landscape, we believe that now is the right time to explore strategic alternatives.” In effect, the company is basically saying “we tried that, and that didn’t work so now we’re calling it.”
BlackBerry has seen its share price fall by nearly 38% in the last six months. Currently it’s trading at $9.76 on NASDAQ, actually nudging up following reports last week there were reports that the company was looking to follow in the footsteps of Dell and go private.
The theory behind going private is that it can be a way of taking the company out of public scrutiny as it continues to try to restructure itself financially, and around the latest version of its mobile platfrom, BlackBerry 10. Yes, the BB10 platform is a major step change from previous generations of its software, but it’s possibly too late to make enough of an impact in a world currently dominated by Android and iOS — not just in terms of mindshare with consumers, but with developers and the rest of the ecosystem.
In the days following that report from Reuters, pundits have piped up to explain why going private may not be a viable option.
For starters, a turn away from the public markets may be more about majority shareholders then being able to more easily sell off assets, rather than restructuring with all that is currently there. Another glaring business issue is that the company is still selling more of its legacy BlackBerries than it is its newer handsets.
Indeed, so far, BB10 has not proven to be an instant home run. BlackBerry’s stock took a particularly bad tumble of nearly 30% just after its last earnings. In the quarter, which ended June 1, it reported sales of just 2.7 million BB10 devices.
In the wider league tables of smartphone sales, those building devices on Google’s Android have been running away with the show, with Andoid OEMs taking up nearly all of the top-five positions in Strategy Analytics’ latest report on smartphone shipments. (The lone holdout was Apple at just over 31% of shipments, with BlackBerry getting nary a mention in the report.)
Despite that, the company remains optimistic, even today.
“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,” Heins lists in his statement today, as he also sounded a note that signals more slashing in the meantime. “As the Special Committee focuses on exploring alternatives, we will be continuing with our strategy of reducing cost, driving efficiency and accelerating the deployment of BES 10, as well as driving adoption of BlackBerry 10 smartphones, launching the multi-platform BBM social messaging service, and pursuing mobile computing opportunities by leveraging the secure and reliable BlackBerry Global Data Network.”
What today’s news will do is once again start the rumor mill around who might end up shacking up with BlackBerry — another troubled handset maker very much needing scale? An untroubled handset maker but one that wants its own platform rather than continuing to use Google’s?
Still, before you start thinking that BlackBerry’s special committe will inevitably set things in motion for the levees finally to give over in Waterloo, the company also slips in the following caveat:
“There can be no assurance that this exploration process will result in any transaction. The Company does not currently intend to disclose further developments with respect to this process, unless and until its Board of Directors approves a specific transaction or otherwise concludes the review of strategic alternatives,” it notes.
That would surely be the worst-case scenario: BlackBerry admitting it can no longer go on like this, but still failing to find a decent route to get out of the mud.