* Lenovo CEO says may consider BlackBerry deal in the future
* AT&T says BlackBerry Z10 to hit store shelves on March 22
* Analyst sees margins moving higher with new device sales
* BlackBerry shares up 12 pct on Nasdaq, TSX (Adds comments by Lenovo CEO, company background, updates share price)
By Euan Rocha
TORONTO, March 11 (Reuters) - BlackBerry shares rose 12 percent on Monday, fueled by takeover speculation and news that AT&T Inc will start selling the new BlackBerry Z10 touchscreen smartphone in the United States on March 22.
The CEO of China’s Lenovo Group Ltd told a French newspaper on Monday that the personal computer maker might consider an acquisition of Canada’s BlackBerry at some point in the future.
“External growth remains a question of opportunities,” Yang Yuanqing told Les Échos in an interview.
“As for BlackBerry, the file could eventually make sense, but I must first analyze the market and understand the exact weight of this company,” he said in response to a question about whether the company would make a move on BlackBerry.
BlackBerry, a one-time smartphone pioneer, has bled market share to the likes of Apple Inc’s iPhone, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd’s Galaxy line and other devices powered by Google Inc’s market-leading Android operating system.
In a make-or-break move to regain market share and return to profit, BlackBerry introduced the new smartphone to much fanfare in January, and said it was abandoning its old name, Research In Motion, and renaming itself BlackBerry.
A spokesman for Lenovo in Canada downplayed the CEO’s comment, saying, “in no way was this an indication of activity or strategic direction.”
Another Lenovo executive had made a similar comment when asked about BlackBerry in January. That remark also sparked a rally in BlackBerry shares, but Lenovo said at the time that the executive was only speaking broadly about M&A strategy.
BlackBerry shares were up 11.7 percent at $14.59 on the Nasdaq on Monday afternoon, while the Toronto-listed shares were up 11.7 percent at C$14.99.
BlackBerry is hoping the new devices, already on sale in Canada, Britain and more than 20 other countries, will help it win back market share in the United States, which was once a stronghold for the smartphone industry pioneer.
The U.S. launch of the new devices has been delayed due to a longer carrier-testing phase in the country. AT&T said pre-sales of the devices will begin on Tuesday.
BlackBerry says sales of its new smartphone have been outpacing its expectations so far, but investors are keen to see how it fares in the United States.
As expected, AT&T said it would sell the devices for $199.99 with a two-year contract. T-Mobile USA said on Friday it planned to start selling the BlackBerry Z10 to its business customers in the United States on Monday.
Verizon Inc, the biggest U.S. wireless carrier, has yet to say when it will start selling the Z10. The Z10 and the soon-to-be-launched Q10, which will come with BlackBerry’s traditional physical keyboard, are powered by the new BlackBerry 10, or BB10 operating system.
“We believe the Street is pricing in such a weak fiscal 2014 that BB10 does not need to be an outstanding success to surprise,” Scotiabank analyst Gus Papageorgiou said in a note to clients on Monday.
Papageorgiou, who has a “sector outperform” rating on the stock, said he expects the company sold about 1 million BlackBerry 10 devices in the quarter ended March 2.
“Gross margins should begin to move higher as more Z10s enter the mix,” he said. “Next quarter will be the true test as BB10 launches in the U.S.” ($1 = 1.027 Canadian) (Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Peter Galloway and Matthew Lewis)