By Clare Jim
TAIPEI (Reuters) - HTC Corp has no plans for now to change its fourth-quarter sales guidance, as shares in the world's No.4 smartphone maker tumbled nearly 7 percent on Wednesday on worries that a 30 percent drop in monthly sales may point to worse times ahead.
HTC, whose rapid rise in the cut-throat industry had made it an investor darling until early this year, has lost much of its luster in recent weeks, as its models struggle to compete with Apple Inc's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy range.
Two warnings on revenue have sent the shares down nearly 40 percent in five weeks and prompted calls for a change of tack in a fast-moving and fickle market.
But with no fresh models lined up until early next year, consumer spending crimped in major economies and a crucial ruling on a patent dispute due next week that could lead to a ban on U.S. sales, HTC could face further difficult times.
"December sales are also expected to be lower than November because HTC is still facing the same issue, which is competition from Apple and Samsung," said KGI Securities analyst Richard Ko.
"But I don't think it'll cut its forecast again, even though there have been times it has missed guidance within a 5 percent range in the past."
An HTC official said on Wednesday the company had no plans at the moment to revise its fourth-quarter forecast. The official declined to comment on December sales. HTC's chief financial officer also declined to comment.
On Tuesday it reported a 30 percent drop in November sales from the previous month and a 20 percent fall from a year ago. The first annual sales decline in two years disappointed investors used to double- and even triple-digit growth rates.
The figures came after HTC shocked markets on November 23 with a second warning that fourth-quarter revenue would be little changed from the T$104 billion ($3.4 billion) in the same quarter a year ago.
November sales fell to T$30.94 billion, meaning that HTC has to achieve revenue of around T$29 billion in December to meet the lowered estimate for the fourth quarter.
That would be a 6 percent fall from November and a 9 percent drop from a year ago, much more moderate than the November decline.
SHARES IN FREEFALL
On Wednesday, HTC shares closed down 6.6 percent at T$428, levels not seen since early July last year. The stock is down 65 percent from its record high of T$1,238 hit in April, which was also the month its highly regarded innovation chief Horace Luke left the company.
Apart from Research in Motion, HTC shares are the worst performer among global smartphone firms this year, falling more than 50 percent.
It had once been amongst the best. HTC had a fairytale ride in 2010 and early 2011, when its shares more than tripled in the 14 months to April 2011 and sales grew four-fold in one and a half years as consumers snapped up its innovative phones with their distinctive large clock numerals.
But squeezed of late between Apple's huge offering of apps for its iconic phones and Samsung's big marketing budget that gives its Galaxy models extra clout, HTC's Desire, Sensation and Wildfire models have struggled to maintain the momentum.
It will unveil new models in the new year, which it has said will be better and more competitive, and will include new LTE phones for the U.S. market. It has yet to give details on the models.
"I'm not so optimistic that HTC will see a growth in sales in the first quarter because the new LTE phones it is betting on are high-end products with other strong players in the segment," said KGI's Ko.
Gartner analyst CK Lu said HTC should put in more effort into the design of its phones.
"It can't just rely on a few more new applications to build up its name. It needs to put in some effort on the overall design of its phones in terms of hardware specifications, software features and services," Lu said.
In the final analysis however, one expert said, the HTC brand will be the key factor.
"Both HTC and Apple design phones from a human angle, but ultimately users are more inclined to brand recognition than functionality of a smartphone," said Chih-Fu Wu, Dean of the College of Design at Taipei's Tatung University, a specialist technology college.
The most immediate threat to its shares and sales will be a ruling by the International Trade Commission on December 14 in a patent complaint filed by Apple.
Apple is seeking a ban on sales of HTC devices in the U.S. market, which accounts for 50 percent of total sales. ($1 = 30.2170 Taiwan dollars)
(Additional reporting by Chyen Yee Lee in HONG KONG; Editing by Jonathan Standing and Miyoung Kim)