Admit It, BlackBerry Analysts: You Just Don't Know


In the run-up to its much-anticipated earnings release on June 28, BlackBerry investors have to contend with wildly varying news and analyst expectations. In the past few days alone, BlackBerry has dealt with downgrades and lowered price targets by some, while others are predicting its Z10 and new Q10 smartphones running BB10 could be a smashing success by the end of this year.

And let's not forget the recent concerns raised by The Guardian news article questioning BlackBerry's smartphone security relating to the recent spy scandal. It's a confusing time to be sure, especially if you're a shareholder.

First, the bad news
Leading up to Tuesday's closing price of $14.84 a share, BlackBerry had been on a nice little roll in June, rewarding shareholders with a 9% jump in share price. Then the other shoe dropped.

In this case, the shoe belonged to a Bernstein Research analyst who cut his rating on BlackBerry to "underperform" based on his belief that "Blackberry is now set to disappoint investor expectations for the second half."

According to the Bernstein analyst, the initial enthusiasm surrounding BB10 is waning, and the result was a 4% sell-off by the end of Wednesday's trading.

By now, most the world has heard the name Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor responsible for the furor surrounding privacy issues. Companies everywhere have been scrambling to cover themselves and placate concerned wireless customers and Internet users. BlackBerry was not exempt from the fallout, in spite of its well-earned reputation among governments and private industry for superior smartphone security and operating systems.

Earlier this week, BlackBerry was forced to defend itself after reports surfaced from the documents Snowden showed The Guardian detailing the successful hacking of BlackBerry smartphones used by government officials at Group of 20 meetings. In response, BlackBerry said, "We remain confident in the superiority of BlackBerry's mobile security platform for customers."

Now, for some good news
In the past week, BlackBerry has received several analyst upgrades, including Societe Generale changing its "sell" rating to a "buy." But the upgrade from an analyst at RBC Capital Markets is what really gives BlackBerry bulls something to hold on to, and is an ideal example of just how difficult it is to get a feel for BlackBerry's future prospects. About the same time Bernstein was downgrading BlackBerry, RBC Capital Markets raised its expectations for smartphone shipments. According to RBC, BlackBerry will ship 3.5 million units in its fiscal 2014 first quarter, up from RBC's initial estimate of 2.75 million.

And BlackBerry's Q2 looks even better, if you choose to believe RBC. Previous forecasts from RBC suggested about 3 million BlackBerry devices would be shipped in fiscal Q2. Now, RBC expects BlackBerry will move 4 million smartphones, and 14 million for the 2013 calendar year. The increased estimates are based on BB10's availability in over 70 countries and 170 carriers, and will result in a profitable fiscal 2014 for BlackBerry.

Another bullish sign for BlackBerry fans is its call/put ratio volume of 2.47. The ratio indicates the number of BlackBerry calls in the past 10 weeks is more than double those of puts -- a high for the year.

When it's all said and done, what's an investor to do with all this conflicting data? There are a couple things to consider: One, if you're already a BlackBerry shareholder, it's likely you're on board with the direction CEO Thorsten Heins is heading, and there hasn't been any firm data suggesting you were off base. So if you've got 'em, hold 'em.

For new investors weighing the pros and cons of BlackBerry, especially after sifting through conflicting analyst reports and the upcoming earnings release, the proliferation of good news/bad news may warrant a "wait-and-see" approach.

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