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    Wednesday, July 10, 2013

    Reuter site - CEO says BlackBerry open to licensing deals, other options

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    CEO says BlackBerry open to licensing deals, other options

    Tue, Jul 09 17:51 PM EDT

    By Euan Rocha

    WATERLOO, Ontario (Reuters) - BlackBerry Ltd signaled on Tuesday that a licensing deal, or even an outright sale of the company, was still a possibility, pleasing shareholders still reeling from the disappointing debut for its new line of smartphones.

    Chief Executive Thorsten Heins, responding to a question about whether he was looking into strategic alternatives, said he is open to all options that create value for shareholders. He emphasized that the company has so far focused on creating value through the launch of its new devices powered by an all-new BlackBerry 10 operating system.

    "This is a long-term transition for the company, but I can assure you that we're pushing very hard," Heins said at the company's annual shareholder meeting. "BlackBerry will pursue every opportunity to create value for shareholders."

    His remarks that BlackBerry was also open to any and all licensing opportunities, sent shares higher in morning trading.

    John Goldsmith, deputy head of equities at Montrusco Bolton, which owns more than 1.5 million BlackBerry shares, believes that BlackBerry may well be pressed into striking such a deal.

    "I think they're on a very short leash," said Goldsmith, referring to BlackBerry's management. "I wouldn't be surprised if within the next two quarters there is a definitive announcement with regard to other options that this company could be looking at whether that's putting itself for sale or some other option."

    The company's stock had dropped more than 30 percent after it posted disappointing second-quarter results in late June and forecast an operating loss in the current quarter.

    A bigger concern for investors, was the fact that it sold fewer-than-expected BlackBerry 10 devices in their first full quarter on the market, offering little evidence that it could quickly win back market share from Apple Inc's iPhone, Samsung's Galaxy devices, and other phones powered by Google's Android operating system.

    Even so, some investors believe many other companies would relish the prospect of getting their hands on the new platform.

    "I can see why this guy is confident," said Ross Healy, a portfolio manager with MacNicol & Associates, whose clients own BlackBerry shares. "He is talking about partnerships and being open to talks and I don't think you say that unless you've really had a talk or two with interested parties - and that gives you some confidence."

    At the meeting, held at BlackBerry's home base in Waterloo, Ontario, Heins conceded that BlackBerry has a tough road ahead as it attempts to turn around its fortunes, but he insisted it was on the right track.

    Heins said BlackBerry was already seeing small signs of market-share gains in the top-end of the ultra-competitive smartphone market.

    "Before you go into any strategic option, I think you have to create value. And the value of the company 15 months ago was way less than what it is today," he said.

    CLOCK TICKING

    Despite the company's confident tone, many investors agree that the clock is ticking for BlackBerry, which is caught in a squeeze on both the high- and low-ends of the smartphone market.

    BlackBerry 10 devices hit store shelves this year just as the high-end smartphone segment had begun to show some signs of saturation. Last week, Samsung reported results that fell shy of expectations, while Apple earlier this year reported its first quarterly profit decline in more than a decade.

    On the mid- to low end, competition is growing intense, with Chinese manufacturers such as Huawei Technologies and ZTE gaining ground.

    Even so, BlackBerry said it remains determined to stick to its plan and is not re-thinking its strategy in any manner.

    "We as a board remain completely supportive of management," said the company's chair, Barbara Stymiest, adding that she was confident the turnaround plan would succeed.

    Shareholders voted on Tuesday to elect all the company's director nominees to its board. They also approved the plan to change the company's name to BlackBerry Ltd from Research In Motion Ltd, a move that had been announced in January.

    BlackBerry shares closed almost 1 percent higher at $9.64 on the Nasdaq on Tuesday.

    (Reporting by Euan Rocha, additional reporting by Peter Henderson; Writing by Cameron French; editing by Frank McGurty and Gunna Dickson)

    Reuter site - Nokia to bet on camera upgrade in smartphone push

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    Nokia to bet on camera upgrade in smartphone push

    Wed, Jul 10 09:33 AM EDT

    By Ritsuko Ando

    HELSINKI (Reuters) - Nokia <NOK1V.HE> is expected to unveil a new smartphone with a 41-megapixel camera on Thursday, banking on advanced optics to make up for meager marketing resources and a limited range of phone apps.

    Analysts, however, are skeptical that a new camera for the flagship Lumia smartphone will be enough for the Finnish company to regain market share from rivals Samsung <005930.KS> and Apple <AAPL.O>.

    Several said that Nokia needs to market the handsets more aggressively - a tough challenge in the face of its dwindling cash reserves after years of poor sales and the decision this month to buy Siemens' <SIEGn.DE> stake in their equipment joint venture.

    "What I'm expecting to see is a powerful device that will differentiate it from competitors' high-end handsets. But whether this will be enough to compete with Samsung and Apple? I doubt it," said Francisco Jeronimo, of research firm IDC.

    "They need to raise the level of awareness. They may have the best camera, the best maps, but if consumers don't really know what they can do, that's not enough."

    Nokia Chief Executive Stephen Elop, hired in 2010 to revive the former mobile phone market leader, has bet the company's future in smartphones on Microsoft's <MSFT.O> Windows Phone operating system.

    While simpler feature phones still account for a bulk of Nokia's handset shipments, smartphones are viewed as crucial for its survival because of their higher margins, increasing demand for Internet access and consumers' growing tendency to switch to cheaper models made by Asian manufacturers.

    APPS HANDICAP

    While existing Lumias have won positive reviews from critics and technology blogs, they have struggled against Samsung's handsets, which use Google's Android operating system, and Apple's iPhones, which run on iOS.

    IDC estimates that Android and iOS accounted for 92.3 percent of all smartphone shipments in the first quarter of this year. Windows Phone, meanwhile, accounted for 3.2 percent, with a shortage of apps proving a major handicap.

    Windows Phone has only 160,000 apps in store, while rivals offer about five times as many because developers prefer to make them for the higher-volume operating systems.

    The new phone to be unveiled on Thursday is expected to be the most advanced of the Lumia range. Nokia already has a 41-megapixel camera on its 808 PureView phone, but that model runs on the Symbian platform, which is being phased out.

    The camera on the 808 PureView, which uses Carl Zeiss optics, has been widely praised for taking high-quality pictures even after zooming.

    A 41 megapixel count far exceeds those of the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, at 8 and 16 megapixels respectively. It is also higher than some compact cameras, though the number of megapixels does not necessarily mean better photos because factors such as lens quality also affect the end result.

    Recent Lumia phones have also emphasized advanced camera features, including the Lumia 920's "floating lens" technology to adjust for camera shake and six-lens optics on the Lumia 925 to produce sharper images.

    Nokia has not given details about the latest upgrade, but a source confirmed that the camera technology would be its main selling point and the company's own website promises "41 million reasons" to tune in to the event in New York.

    CASH CONCERNS

    While analysts say it is crucial for Nokia to boost marketing and promotions through its carrier partners, the company is likely to keep a wary eye on its marketing expenses.

    Nokia said last week that its net cash position at the end of the second quarter was between 3.7 billion euros and 4.2 billion euros ($4.7 billion to $5.4 billion), indicating that cash burn may have been as high as 800 million euros in the quarter.

    Ratings agency Standard & Poor's downgraded Nokia by one notch on Friday to B+ from BB-, forecasting that net cash could fall as low as 1.3 billion euros at the end of the year.

    A portfolio manager for one of Nokia's top 10 institutional investors, who declined to be identified, said he is not in favor of Nokia boosting marketing spending too much and is happy with a slowly-but-surely approach.

    Alandsbanken analyst Lars Soderfjell, too, said Nokia should aim for modest marketing - enough to improve sales and buy more time for a turnaround without accelerating cash burn.

    "I look at this as a very gradual turnaround. I don't see there being a silver bullet model ... If it can gain a couple of percentage points in market share, then it can gradually recover," he said.

    IDC's Jeronimo suggested that Microsoft should also do more to market Windows Phone handsets. Without Nokia's commitment to Windows, Microsoft would have no leading handset partner.

    "I think Microsoft has relied a lot on Nokia to promote Windows Phone. That's not enough," he said. "It will be hard for Nokia to do the entire investment." (For an Interactive look at Nokia, go to: http://link.reuters.com/guz42t) ($1 = 0.7821 euros)

    (Editing by David Goodman)

    Reuter site - Allianz eyes growth in computer hacking insurance

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    Allianz eyes growth in computer hacking insurance

    Wed, Jul 10 12:12 PM EDT

    MUNICH (Reuters) - Europe's biggest insurer Allianz is expecting to cash in on growing corporate demand for insurance against computer hacking and internet breakdowns, it said on Wednesday.

    "We see cyber insurance as a big growth market," said Hartmut Mai, board member at Allianz's AGCS unit for global corporate and special insurance risks.

    Insuring against cyber threats is seen as a potentially lucrative market for Europe's insurers, particularly now that lawmakers are promising bigger fines for companies that lose data.

    "If my production lines are silent because my cloud (computing) provider cannot make the data I have stored there available, then that could threaten the company's existence," Mai told a press briefing.

    While cyber insurance products in the United States are already well developed, generating premiums of around $1.3 billion per year, they are drawing premiums of only around 150 million euros ($192 million) in continental Europe, including between 50 million and 70 million in Germany, Mai said.

    That leaves room for the market outside the United States to grow by double-digit rates.

    "We see the overall market in Europe at between 700 and 900 million euros in 2018," Mai said, adding that Allianz aimed to grow with the market and hold a share of around a fifth.

    Allianz has brought several types of risk cover, including some existing insurance products, into a single package for its cyber offering, which it expects will be of interest to telecoms companies, software houses, online retailers and banks.

    Annual premiums would range from roughly 50,000 euros to 90,000 and would offer between 10 and 50 million euros of protection, Mai said.

    The insurer is rolling out the package in western Europe, Australia and New Zealand this year and will target several Asian countries in 2014. It does not plan to offer it to U.S.-based customers, where the liability rules make the market particularly tough. ($1 = 0.7821 euros)

    (Reporting by Joern Poltz; Writing by Jonathan Gould; Editing by David Holmes)

    Reuter site - T-Mobile US to allow phone upgrades every six months

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    T-Mobile US to allow phone upgrades every six months

    Wed, Jul 10 19:27 PM EDT

    By Sinead Carew

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - T-Mobile US Inc said on Wednesday that customers will be allowed to upgrade phones every six months and it unveiled a family plan for prepaid customers that it hopes will lure customers away from its three bigger rivals.

    Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc and Sprint Nextel Corp offer phone discounts in exchange for tying customers to two year contracts and typically do not allow phone upgrades during that period.

    T-Mobile, which is under pressure to stem years of customer losses, said it is already seeing good results from its efforts to differentiate itself from bigger rivals. Now, it is betting people will switch to its service because they want to change phones more often than its rivals allow.

    "You can upgrade when you want, not when you're told," T-Mobile Chief Executive John Legere, who was appointed in September 2012, told reporters and analysts at a New York event where he announced the changes.

    Legere told Reuters he expects the offer to improve customer loyalty and to increase the number of new customers T-Mobile lures from other carriers each quarter without having a big financial impact on the company.

    The No. 4 U.S. mobile provider also hopes to attract more customers who pay for calls in advance by offering a prepaid family plan that does not require a credit check.

    It said its $100 monthly fee for a family of four is about $100 less than AT&T's service. It expects a lot of interest in the service as it estimated that a third of U.S. families would not pass the credit checks required for typical family plans.

    AT&T and Verizon attribute much of their success in retaining customers to these plans because it is harder for an entire family to change service than an individual.

    Customers who want frequent phone upgrades must sign on to a service called Jump that requires them to pay a $10 monthly insurance fee on top of monthly service fees and a one-off down payment that partially covers the cost of the phone. They are also charged a monthly fee of up to $20 per month to pay for the remainder of the phone.

    When T-Mobile customers want an upgrade, they can bring a phone to a store and swap it for a new device. They pay another down-payment and resume monthly payments for that device. The moves follows T-Mobile's elimination in March of long-term contracts and handset subsidies.

    T-Mobile will lose money in some cases if a customer trades in a lower value phone for a more expensive one, according to Chief Financial Officer Braxton Carter.

    But he told Reuters this would likely be evened out by the fact that popular phones such as the iPhone can keep as much as 70 percent to 80 percent of their original value after a 6-month trade in. The company will then sell those phones back to customers looking for a discount.

    "We'll definitely attract more customers to our company by having this innovation," Carter said. "By attracting more customers, we're attracting more revenue and (better) margins. This is a greater retention tool."

    The event on Wednesday was T-Mobile's first media function since it merged with MetroPCS in April.

    Some analysts said the new plans could prove popular. But Avi Greengart of Current Analysis questioned whether customers would leave big providers because Verizon's network has a good reputation and AT&T has a huge number of customers tied to family plans that are hard to leave.

    However, Greengart said the move should make those companies "sit up and take notice."

    T-Mobile also announced that customer defection rates are lower than ever because of new marketing efforts and the introduction in April of the Apple Inc iPhone, which accounted for 29 percent of its smartphone sales in the second quarter.

    While the company would not disclose total customer numbers for the second quarter, it believed it had added the most net customers of all the national U.S. carriers, at least in several major U.S. cities. It cited strong customer growth compared with its rivals in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Houston and Dallas.

    T-Mobile shares closed 1.3 percent higher at $24.42 on the New York Stock Exchange.

    (Reporting by Sinead Carew. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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