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Tue, Apr 14, 2009 - Page 10 News List

RIM counting on lower supply cost to bolster margin

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A model displays Research in Motion’s new BlackBerry Bold 9000 at the Taipei Softex Applications Show on Saturday in Taipei. The BlackBerry Bold 9000 smartphone sells for NT$26,900 (US$800).

PHOTO: AP

Research In Motion Ltd (RIM) co-chief executive officer Jim Balsillie said the BlackBerry maker is reducing supply costs as surging growth provides him with leverage to press for bargains during the recession.

“Being a strong growth company in a challenging environment makes you an important customer,” Balsillie said in an interview at his office in Waterloo, Ontario.

That is probably helping RIM to elicit better terms from the companies that make equipment for its BlackBerry phones, he said.

Shrinking expenses, coupled with fresh sources of revenue such as the App World application store, may help the device maker bolster profit margins and thrive in the worst global recession since World War II. RIM has offered discounts on the Storm and other new models to attract customers reluctant to spend as they wait out the slowdown.

This month, RIM said gross margin, the percentage of sales left after production costs, will expand this quarter, signaling the company is absorbing the impact of introductory offers. Before that, the stock had dropped about 12 percent over two months as investors fretted about the effect discounts would have on margins, following RIM’s February prediction that fourth-quarter profit would come in at the low end of targets.

“Their volumes are increasing by leaps and bounds, which has to increase their purchasing power,” said Nirav Parikh, senior vice president and equity analyst at TCW Group Inc in Los Angeles. “The margin step-down has already occurred and the stock has been punished duly.”

TCW has about US$110 billion in assets under management, including RIM shares.

RIM rose US$2.27, or 3.7 percent, to US$64.18 in NASDAQ Stock Market trading on Thursday Apple Inc., maker of the rival iPhone, climbed US$3.25 to US$119.57.

RIM’s five biggest suppliers account for almost 90 percent of its production costs, according to data from relationship-mapping software Connexiti. Electronics manufacturer Elcoteq SE makes up a third of RIM’s costs and relies on the company for 20 percent of annual sales.

“Markets are getting more difficult and everyone is trying to minimize costs,” Elcoteq spokesman Carsten Barth said. “We obviously always try to help our customers because if they are successful, we are successful.”

He declined to comment specifically on RIM.

Elcoteq, based in Luxembourg, is joined by Jabil Circuit Inc, an electronics maker, and by chipmakers Marvell Technology Group Ltd, Multi-Fineline Electronix Inc and Qualcomm Inc, according to Connexiti. Anaheim, California-­based Multi-Fineline, which makes flexible circuit boards for RIM, also has experienced “pricing pressure” and is pushing back on its own suppliers, spokesman Lasse Glassen said.

“Our job is to continually offer our customers globally competitive pricing,” said Beth Walters, a spokeswoman for St Petersburg, Florida-based Jabil.

She declined to comment on the company’s relationship with RIM.

Marvell spokeswoman Diane Vanasse declined to comment, as did Qualcomm spokeswoman Emily Kilpatrick.

RIM and rivals such as Cupertino, California-based Apple are vying for subscribers as the pool of spending dwindles. Sales growth of smartphones are expected to slow to 3.4 percent this year, about one-sixth last year’s pace, with the overall market likely to drop 8.3 percent, research firm IDC said.

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