BlackBerry fights back!

As a journalist, I see lots of rumor stories and so-called analyses that send shivers down my spin. I just know that someone looks to benefit from information that moves some company's stock price. I'm not an investor, knowing that any of my legitimate news stories can affect a public company's shares; it's ethical protocol, too, not to invest in companies you write about. Often manipulation is obvious, but hard to prove. So with great interest I watch BlackBerry's aggressive response to stock shattering news unleashed by an analyst firm yesterday. I make no accusations of wrongdoing. BlackBerry already has.

Shares of the Canadian smartphone and tablet maker plunged about 8 percent yesterday after reports of high BlackBerry Z10 returns. "In several cases, returns are now exceeding sales, a phenomenon we have never seen before", Detwiler Fenton claims. BlackBerry's response is swift and shows just how dramatically different is the leadership under CEO Thorsten Heins. The company asks the Securities and Exchange Commission and Ontario Securities Commission to investigate the "false and misleading report".


Brazen Response

The report, whether or not true, hurts BlackBerry. The once great smartphone maker is a fallen star looking to rise, and Z10 is the engine. Word of high returns can hurt sales, if people or partners considering the Z10 lose confidence in BlackBerry and question whether the company will even be in business a year from now. The implications of high returns is much bigger than the share price. As I repeatedly assert: In business perception is everything.

Heins takes control with a no-nonsense denial that sets a different perception:

Sales of the BlackBerry Z10 are meeting expectations and the data we have collected from our retail and carrier partners demonstrates that customers are satisfied with their devices. Return rate statistics show that we are at or below our forecasts and right in line with the industry. To suggest otherwise is either a gross misreading of the data or a willful manipulation. Such a conclusion is absolutely without basis and BlackBerry will not leave it unchallenged.

I'm used to company non-denial denials that are meant to do PR damage control but don't answer the accusation at hand. Heins stands out for clarity that suggests something isn't right with the high-returns report. "Right in line with the industry" and "gross misreading of the data or a willful manipulation" are unambiguous statements and the latter likely to come back to BlackBerry if libelous. You don't publicly suggest or outright accuse a financial analyst firm of "willful manipulation" unless you're a fool or confident you're right.

"These materially false and misleading comments about device return rates in the United States harm BlackBerry and our shareholders, and we call upon the appropriate authorities in Canada and the United States to conduct an immediate investigation", Steve Zipperstein, BlackBerry chief legal officer, says. "Everyone is entitled to their opinion about the merits of the many competing products in the smartphone industry, but when false statements of material fact are deliberately purveyed for the purpose of influencing the markets a red line has been crossed".

Verizon sides with BlackBerry refuting high return rates.

Hidden Conflicts

One of my big gripes with financial or trade analysts is outright conflict of interest -- the kind journalists are ethically bound to avoid. Many analyst reports read as neutral assessments, but the companies in question also often are clients. In the case of Wall Streeters, the flipside could be true, where clients are competitors of companies they report about or investors in rivals. Some analysts publicly disclose corporate client lists, but most do not -- and no investment firm would expose its list of individual investors and where they place their money.

But that's a somewhat unfair assessment. BlackBerry has huge vested interest in disputing reports of high Z10 returns, so there's a different kind of conflict of interest. Sadly, trust no one, is a good journalist's motto.

Whenever there is any analyst report, rumor or leak about public company, my first question always is: "Who benefits?" That's absolutely the measure here. Who benefits from Detwiler Fenton's report. That's a question a formal SEC or OSC investigation could answer. How BlackBerry benefits from the aggressive response is obvious.

There are many reasons why BetaNews runs so few rumor stories or why I often qualify those that rely on analyst data. As journalists, we have a responsibility to not only report as accurately as possible but to be mindful the impact any story can have on publicly-traded companies like BlackBerry. We don't make editorial decisions based on whether or not X or Y story might hurt or help some company, but, rather, knowing such might be the case make extra diligence to be as accurate as possible based on what we know to be true at the time of writing. We have a responsibility to our readers and to those entities about which we write.

They make me Puke

I'm bloody sick of the "post first, get the facts right later" attitude that is so common across blogs and some news sites. The practice enables people that spread rumors or write false reports for the purpose of manipulating some company's share price. BlackBerry's gripe is with one analyst report, which may or may not prove to be true. But the dispute spotlights a much larger problem of stock manipulation that bloggers, journalists and other writers enable.

Just because so-and-so says something is true doesn't mean it is. Or worse that many people say something is true -- the latter is the echo chamber of falsehood so many blogs, news sites and social networks foster. The practice is worst when Blog A reports rumor B and sites C through Z re-report without ever confirming the veracity via independent sources.

Someone here lies. BlackBerry and Detwiler Fenton both can't be right about Z10 return rates. But that's another story.

Photo Credit:  tankist276/Shutterstock

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