(Updates with closing share price in 10th paragraph.)
Aug. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Morgan Stanley is holding off on upgrading its employees to BlackBerry Ltd.’s newest smartphones and operating system because of concerns that the Canadian company may not back its platform long-term, according to two people with knowledge of the bank’s plans.
Morgan Stanley would normally have a firm timeline for an upgrade by now, more than five months after the new phones were introduced, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the bank’s deliberations are private. The bank has chosen instead to keep using earlier models such as BlackBerry 7 devices, introduced in 2011, because it wants assurance of support for BlackBerry 10 now that the smartphone maker is considering strategic changes, the people said.
A BlackBerry board committee began exploring a sale of the company this month while also weighing partnerships to rescue it from a three-year sales slide that has slashed its market value by about 90 percent. That announcement spurred speculation that other corporate customers across industries will hold off moving up to BlackBerry 10, torpedoing an effort by Chief Executive Officer Thorsten Heins to spark a sales rally with a wave of corporate upgrades.
“If you think the company will be sold or disappears, why buy a couple hundred new devices? When something breaks, you might not get support,” Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics LLC, said in an interview. “It’ll probably put a damper on purchases of BlackBerry devices.”
Competitors such as Apple Inc., Google Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. stand to benefit if customers switch away from BlackBerry.
Another large U.S. bank, with more than 100,000 employees, has started a three-month pilot program for 100 workers using BlackBerry 10, which will give it more time to decide whether to upgrade as it monitors the company’s performance, a person with knowledge of that bank’s strategy said.
Morgan Stanley, which owns the world’s largest brokerage, has about 55,600 employees. Mark Lake, a spokesman for Morgan Stanley in New York, declined to comment.
Adam Emery, a spokesman for BlackBerry, said he couldn’t comment on Morgan Stanley’s plans.
“We remain steadfast in our commitment to our customers and shareholders,” Emery said. “We believe in our innovative technologies and we are laser-focused on delivering long-term value.”
The shares dropped 1.4 percent to $10.12 at the close in New York. They have fallen 6.1 percent since Aug. 12, when BlackBerry announced it was weighing a sale, and are down 15 percent this year amid a 19 percent rally for the Nasdaq Stock Market.
BlackBerry, which reports results on Sept. 27, sold about 700,000 fewer smartphones last quarter than analysts expected, posted a loss and said it expects another loss this quarter despite the introduction of new phones in March.
BlackBerry’s two flagship phones are the touch-screen Z10, designed to compete with Apple Inc.’s iPhone, and the Q10, which has a physical keyboard, a feature still popular on Wall Street. Univision Communications Inc., the most-watched Spanish-language broadcaster in the U.S., this week said it bought 2,000 Q10s as part of a company-wide upgrade.
Canadian banks are already adopting the BlackBerry 10 phones, in part because the Z10 and Q10 were each available in Canada about two months before they went on sale in the U.S. Royal Bank of Canada, the country’s largest lender by assets, began deploying BlackBerry 10 phones in the spring as they became available, said Rina Cortese, a spokeswoman for the Toronto-based bank.
“We are in the final stage of our Q10 pilot and will begin our roll-out in September,” said Paul Deegan, a spokesman for Bank of Montreal, Canada’s fourth-biggest bank by assets.
--With assistance from Doug Alexander in Toronto and Hugh Son in New York. Editors: Crayton Harrison, John Lear