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May 26, 2017

Bay Street still split on BlackBerry despite 68% surge since March

BlackBerry's offices in Waterloo, Ontario

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Shares of BlackBerry (BB.TO) have surged 68 per cent since late March, a meteoric rise as the company hones its post-handset strategy. The Waterloo, Ontario-based technology company was left for dead by some observers after losing the smartphone market it pioneered, with Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s slate of handsets leaving BlackBerry with a paltry market presence before it turfed in-house phone development.

In spite of the momentum in the share price, the analyst community remains split on the future of the company. The stock has five buys, 11 holds and three sells, and the average view of the stock is that it will be worth $11.83 in 12 months’ time, well below today’s $15 per share.

Under Chief Executive Officer John Chen, the company has been growing its QNX connected-car platform, most notably in a wide-ranging partnership with Ford. 400 BlackBerry engineers made the move over to the automaker at the end of March, forging even deeper ties between the two firms. The QNX division has also been gathering plaudits from members of the analyst community, including Macquarie’s Gus Papageorgiou. In a report to clients earlier this month, Papageorgiou praised the BlackBerry software for distinguishing itself from operating systems offered by the tech titans of Silicon Valley.

“Unlike systems such as iOS, Android or Windows, which are monolithic architectures, QNX maintains a modular architecture which makes it more secure and stable – a key advantage when attempting to address highly regulated environments such as the automobile industry,” he wrote on May 16. Macquarie has an outperform rating on the stock, and a 12-month price target of $11.80.

As the company stems the flow of red ink, including its most recent quarter where losses narrowed to US$47 million from US$238 million a year ago, BlackBerry has also gotten a boost to its books from the settlement of a long-running royalty dispute with Qualcomm. Under the terms of an arbitration settlement announced on Friday, the chipmaker will pay BlackBerry US$940 million by the end of May to settle a dispute regarding whether caps to royalty payments applied to certain licensed products.

Further litigation could be ahead after BlackBerry won a court order in late April to lift a stay on going after bankrupt telecommunications firm Avaya. The court order opens the door for BlackBerry to renew its patent infringement battle with Avaya, which was pushed into Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to a massive debt load. BlackBerry alleges the company infringed on multiple BlackBerry patents by using its proprietary technology without payment, though litigation of this nature typically takes months, if not years to conclude.