TORONTO (Reuters) - Research In Motion investors desperate for news about how the BlackBerry maker will reverse its sagging fortunes will likely leave Tuesday’s annual meeting with their frustrations even more inflamed.
While some will demand changes to a management structure they say flies in the face of accountability, others are anxious for something - anything - concrete about RIM that will restore at least some of the stock’s former glory.
Shareholders have had little to celebrate during a painful transition period for the company that once dominated the smartphone industry with its devices built around their secure email function.
RIM’s profit fell last quarter and it warns of more pain ahead as it struggles to convince skeptics that its products can compete with Apple’s iPhone and iPad and the high-end devices using Google’s Android software.
RIM was slow to react to a changed landscape in which applications such as games and video play a larger role in consumers’ choice of device and major companies allow their workers to use their personal phones to access work systems.
Its shares have wilted since a February peak, and a shrunken valuation around $15 billion is boosting speculation that a deep-pocketed rival could swoop in to buy the company at a bargain price.
“It’s going to be feistier than normal because of where the stock is and everyone is pushing for them to split the CEO and chairman roles,” said Matthew Thornton from Avian Securities.
An activist shareholder sought a vote to force co-founder Mike Lazaridis and his co-chief executive Jim Balsillie to relinquish their other shared role as board chairman, but later withdrew after RIM promised to study the issue.
The move is “a delaying tactic,” said a governance expert at a firm invested in RIM who declined to be identified. “I would have thought they had a fairly clear signal that this is what the market wanted. They should have got the message.”
But Avian’s Thornton said corporate structure was the least of concerns for RIM and its shareholders.
“That’s not going to solve their problems and it’s not the reason for their problems, so it’s all noise,” he said.
At issue, as Thornton and many others see it, is RIM’s fading relevance to erstwhile partners as it rushes to migrate its phones to the QNX platform powering its PlayBook tablet.
In August, RIM launched its BlackBerry Torch smartphone, a touchscreen and keyboard device with a refreshed operating system. It didn’t turn many heads and major U.S. carrier AT&T soon after halved the price tag to boost volumes.
Lazaridis took to the stage of RIM’s developer conference in September to extol the virtues of the PlayBook, but it didn’t hit shelves until April. Critics complained that it was rushed.
RIM says it will deliver QNX-powered phones early next year and in the meantime will push out a batch of phones using an updated version of its existing software. It is not clear how long RIM will support both platforms, complicating efforts by developers to write programs for RIM products.
“What this company needs to do, as quickly as humanly possible but in a well-executed manner, is launch their next-gen operating system for smartphones,” said Daniel Ernst, an analyst at Hudson Square Research, who has a “buy” rating on the stock.
Barring word on product launches or strategy, RIM has little room to impress investors with promises.
“When you’re under the gun like this it doesn’t matter what they say. ... What matters is how they’re executing, and that’s very hard to read,” he said.
This story is corrected in paragraph one to clarify day of AGM to Tuesday from Wednesday