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Did we just wake up in an alternate universe? BlackBerry turns a profit

Back in Black, but one fair quarter does not a turnaround make

BlackBerry actually made money in the fourth quarter of its fiscal 2015, but the bigger picture for the ailing smartphone maker is far from rosy.

The Canadian firm reported net income of $28m for the three months ending on February 28, compared to a loss of $423m for the same period a year ago. As a result, it was able to post earnings of $0.04 per diluted share, shocking Wall Street analysts, who were expecting it to lose $0.05 per share, on average.

That was all the good news, though, as nearly every other metric for the firm is still trending downward.

Total revenue for the quarter was $660m, a 32.4 per cent year-on-year decline. And even though the much-hyped BlackBerry Classic launched in December, fourth quarter revenue was down 16.8 per cent from the previous sequential quarter, which ended on November 29.

In other words, BlackBerry's fourth quarter wasn't much different from the rest of the year. Its total revenue for all of fiscal 2015 was $3.34bn, a 51 per cent decrease from the previous year.

Somewhat encouragingly, sales of BlackBerry's mobile device management tools and other software in Q4 were up 19.6 per cent from the year-ago quarter. But that $67m in software revenue was just 10 per cent of the quarter's total. Meanwhile, hardware sales were down 23.5 per cent, year on year, and services revenue was down 43.6 per cent.

So where did this surprise profit come from? Higher prices, for one thing. The average price of a BlackBerry handset was $211 in the fourth quarter, for example, compared to $180 in the previous year's quarter.

BlackBerry also received a $115m windfall from the sale of its stake in the Rockstar Consortium, an industry group led by Apple and Microsoft that had hoarded telecom patents previously owned by the now-bankrupt Nortel.

But if the onetime smartphone kingpin managed to creep into the black in the fourth quarter, it was mainly down to cost cutting. Among other measures, BlackBerry has cut its staff by around 60 per cent over the last three years, although CEO John Chen says current staffers are safe from the axe.

The positive quarter may just be a fluke, too. Although BlackBerry says it is looking to achieve "sustainable profitability" by the end of 2016, it posted a total net loss for fiscal 2015 of $304m.

Still, that was better than the $5.9bn it lost in fiscal 2014.

But BlackBerry shareholders have been battered by the company's failures for so long now that a single successful quarter is cause for little more than cautious optimism. The company's share price climbed a scant 2 per cent in after-hours trading on the news. ®

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