HTC’s (2498) share price dove 6% yesterday as investors fretted over whether February revenue might drop below NT$12 billion. Well, it did. In fact, it plunged all the way to NT$11.37 billion. This was a -27% decline compared to January… and January revenue was down -28% from December. That January tumble was a pretty normal seasonal drop, but this February decline definitely isn’t. As a sign of that, HTC’s January revenue was down only -7% year-on-year — meanwhile, February sales were down -44%.
HTC’s overall revenue trend suddenly deteriorated sharply in February. What happened?
The new HTC One smartphone is about to launch, so it is understandable that carriers might pull back from ordering HTC’s older Android models. But what makes the -44% annualized sales collapse hard to understand is the fact that there are two major new Windows Phones that HTC is now rolling out after light production volumes of December and January.
The high-end Windows Phone 8X and the budget Windows Phone 8S are ramping up widely in Europe and Asia. These two models should be now in the middle of their biggest production volume expansion. How can HTC’s overall volume possibly be down by -44%, particularly since the January sales were not disastrous? This might be a bad omen for the company’s Windows Phone prospects.
There is a lot of buzz about component problems HTC is having. Some analysts have been taking down their early volume estimates for the HTC One in anticipation of small early production batches.
If this sounds familiar, it is. HTC, Nokia (NOK), BlackBerry (BBRY) and some smaller vendors have all started suffering seriously from slow and thin early production runs of major models. This can cause profound damage to the vendor if orders for its older models dry up while operators refuse to commit to major marketing pushes to new models until they get bigger shipments. The danger is that once the real volume production starts, the hot new model is already looking a bit shopworn. Operators have now a smorgasbord of new models to choose from — Sony’s (SNE) new Xperia is a surprise smash hit in France and the UK in March, usurping the position HTC used to have as a sleek alternative to Samsung (005930).
One thing is clear; HTC One production better ramp up quickly in April even if the March launch is a bit wonky. Huge debuts from Samsung and Apple (AAPL) are already looming in the horizon, ready to suck the oxygen out of the high-end markets in Europe and North America.