TORONTO (Reuters) - BlackBerry maker Research In Motion RIM.TORIMM.O reported a higher fourth-quarter profit on Wednesday that topped expectations, and delivered a strong outlook that suggested the company is comfortably weathering the slowdown in the U.S. economy.
RIM's shares, which roughly tripled in 2007 but have stagnated since the start of this year, rose 6 percent in after-hours trading as investors reacted to the results, which were also lauded by analysts.
The company said it earned $412.5 million, or 72 cents a share, in the three months ended March 1. That was up from a profit of $187.4 million, or 33 cents a share, in the same period a year earlier.
That beat a forecast made by the company in February, when it told the market to expect earnings of 66 to 70 cents a share, and sent RIM shares higher in after-hours Nasdaq trade.
For the upcoming first quarter, the company said it expects revenue of $2.23 billion to $2.3 billion and a profit of 82 cents to 86 cents a share -- better than the 77 cents expected by analysts, according to Reuters Estimates.
Canaccord Adams analyst Peter Misek said the "monster" results are even stronger because of RIM's first-quarter forecasts in the face of a faltering U.S. economy.
"What's impressive is that, given the macro environment that they know about, they guided this strong," he said.
Some analysts have raised concerns that job losses in corporate America would lead to slower sales of the BlackBerry, a staple device of most executives. As well, observers have warned that companies and big government departments could delay upgrading to newer versions of RIM's smartphone lineup.
"To achieve these numbers in what looks like a U.S. recession is a big positive surprise for investors, many of whom had worried that a slowdown would hurt RIM," said Duncan Stewart, president of Duncan Stewart Asset Management Inc. in Toronto.
RIM's shares haven't made much progress this year as investors weighed the potential impact of the slowing U.S. economy and stiffer competition from the likes of Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Motorola MOT.N and Nokia (NOK.N).
However, in the wake of Wednesday's earnings report, the shares rallied 6 percent from their regular session close of $115.79 on Nasdaq to hit $122.90 in after-hours trade.
The after-hours rise was relatively muted when compared to reactions in prior quarters, when the stock has jumped more than 10 percent, implying investors remain cautious despite the strong results.
The stock closed at C$117.63 in Toronto, down C$2.47 or 2 percent.
RIM co-Chief Executive Jim Balsillie said strong growth in the consumer market during the quarter was helped by telecom company promotions that lured more users to multimedia-rich models of the BlackBerry, such as the Pearl.
He added: "It is important to note we did not see any evidence of slowdown in our enterprise business outside of normal seasonal trends."
National Bank Financial analyst Deepak Chopra characterized the results as "very strong" on all fronts and said RIM was benefiting from wireless carriers increasingly looking to data revenue from services like text messaging and wireless e-mail to supplement voice revenues.
"I think obviously we always have to be conscious of the economic downturn," he said. "But I think the secular trend of data more or less remains intact."
RIM said it added 2.18 million subscribers during the quarter, on the high end of its earlier predictions, and that the total number of BlackBerry subscribers has surpassed 14 million.
The Waterloo, Ontario-based company said revenue more than doubled to $1.88 billion from $930.4 million a year earlier.
Additional reporting by Ritsuko Ando; editing by Peter Galloway