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Palm Takes It on the Chin, Still Fighting

Forget the non-impressive current results, the company might benefit from some good developments, like an app store strategy, favorable Pre demographics and the webOS ecosystem.
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Palm continues to placate Wall Street with promises of future growth, as shares jumped in after-hours trading even as the smartphone maker reported a loss totaling $105 million for its fiscal fourth quarter.

While the loss didn't surprise industry watchers -- it actually topped analyst estimates -- the company's executives did touch on Palm's direction during its critical transformation.

During the company's earnings call, newly appointed Palm CEO Jon Rubenstein ran down a list of Palm's strengths, including interest from the enterprise for the company's new flagship product, the Palm Pre, and expressed confidence in his belief that company's new mobile platform webOS will take off with developers, despite a slow roll-out.

For the quarter ending May 29, Palm's (NASDAQ: PALM) net loss of $105 million is more than double the loss of $43.4 million in the same quarter last year.

Palm lost $0.40 per share in the latest quarter, compared with a loss of $0.22 per share a year earlier. Revenue dipped from the past year by 71 percent, to $86.8 million from $296.2 million. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters were looking for Palm to post a loss of $0.62 per share on sales of $80.6 million.

Palm also shipped 351,000 smartphones during the quarter, down 62 percent from a year earlier.

For the entire fiscal year, Palm realized a loss of $753 million, or $6.51 a share, compared with a loss of $110.9 million, or $1.05 a share, a year earlier. Revenue fell 44 percent to $735.9 million from $1.32 billion.

Still, Palm share price rose $1.68 to $15.70 in trading before exchanges opened, and shares have more than quadrupled this year in large part on speculation that the Palm Pre will fuel a comeback at the company.

Also, the fourth-quarter and full-year results don't account for the success the Palm Pre has seen since it went on sale June 6 -- and Jon Rubenstein made sure investors and analysts looked to the company's future.

"The launch of Palm webOS and Palm Pre was a major milestone in Palm's transformation," Rubenstein said in a statement. "We have now officially re-entered the race. We have more to accomplish, but the groundwork is laid for a very promising future here at Palm."

The Pre, the first smartphone operating on the company's new webOS mobile operating system, hit store shelves three weeks ago. It faces tough competition from Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) new iPhone 3G S, as well as other models expected from Research In Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) and those running on Android from HTC, Samsung and Motorola.

Still, Rubenstein said the lucrative smartphone market is healthy enough to sustain more than one top dog.

"Only a handful of companies have the software and product design capabilities," he said during the earnings call. "There's room for three to five players in this space. We don't have to beat each other to prosper."

Among the competition, the RIM BlackBerry dominates in the enterprise but its maker is trying to push into the consumer market, where Apple reigns supreme. But Palm's chief said there's initial interest in the Pre from the enterprise, as well.

"One thing we're seeing is a lot of interest out of the enterprise, and we don't have a lot of data yet, but the general feel is there is a lot of enterprise interest out there," he said.

Next page: Pre success, webOS hopes


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Tags: Blackberry, iPhone, Palm, RIM, Palm Pre


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