01-01-2005, 11:19 AM
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| | [01-01-2005] Must-have BlackBerry wins over users and invest
Employees of Research In Motion Ltd. who are caught checking the share price on the job face a uniquely Canadian punishment: They have to buy doughnuts for the entire staff of 3,000 in Waterloo, Ont. |
But with RIM shares taking flight in 2004, more than a few workers probably couldn't resist the temptation. What's a few hundred boxes of apple fritters when you can afford your own doughnut franchise?
RIM -- which makes the popular BlackBerry mobile e-mail device -- soared 127.8 per cent last year, defying critics who said it was doomed to fall back to earth, just as it did -- twice -- during the great tech meltdown of 2000.
It didn't hurt that analysts raised their earnings estimates and price targets almost as often as they changed their socks, reaching into their reservoir of superlatives every time RIM announced its latest subscriber numbers.
"Q1 looks like another blowout quarter," effused one research report. "Looking for another berry good quarter," gushed another.
Wall Street had plenty to cheer -- and make bad puns -- about. After all, the BlackBerry -- nicknamed the CrackBerry because using it can be habit-forming -- was poised to usher in a communications revolution. Or so went the hype.
Already a must-have accessory for business warriors and gadget geeks, the BlackBerry aimed to broaden its appeal with ordinary consumers by launching a new version, the 7100t, equipped with a redesigned keyboard, cellphone and large backlit screen -- perfect for forwarding lame Internet jokes.
By December, RIM had passed the two million subscriber mark, doubling its user base in less than a year and cementing its position as the dominant player in the $1-billion (U.S.) wireless personal digital assistant market, with a roughly 90-per-cent share.
To be sure, RIM's numbers were impressive. For the third quarter ended Nov. 27, revenue soared 138 per cent to $365.9-million from $153.9-million a year earlier. Profit reached $90.4-million or 46 cents a share, up 454 per cent from $16.3-million or 10 cents last year.
But as 2004 came to a close, there were reasons to wonder whether the party was about to end.
Competing devices -- such as palmOne Inc.'s nifty Treo 650 -- were threatening to steal BlackBerry's market share. And there was that pesky patent lawsuit that took a nasty turn in December.