Investors in Research In Motion hit the "sell" button Friday, sending stock in the beleaguered BlackBerry maker to its lowest point since 2003.

The shares closed at $7.54 after a day of heavy trading on the TSX, down just over 20 per cent from Thursday's close.

In Nasdaq trading, RIM shares closed down $1.74 to $7.39 US. 

The plunge followed the release after markets closed Thursday of the Waterloo, Ont.-based company's latest financial results. To put it mildly, they disappointed analysts and shocked shareholders on almost every front.

Not only did the company report a much bigger quarterly net loss than expected — $518 million US — it also announced a further delay in the debut of its much-anticipated BlackBerry 10 smartphone operating system until the first quarter of next year.

The company's bad news didn't end there. It also reported that its revenues plunged 43 per cent from the previous year to $2.8 billion US, missing expectations.

RIM's employees were told to brace for 5,000 layoffs over the coming year —almost a third of RIM's global workforce — while the company struggles to cut costs and completely revamp its BlackBerry operating system.

Stock downgraded

With such a bleak outlook, analysts were quick to downgrade RIM's stock. CIBC, Bank of America, and Scotia all cut the stock to "underperform." Citi reiterated its "sell" rating and cut its price target from $9.50 US to $5. Almost a dozen other brokerage houses cut their targets by as much as 50 per cent.

"We expected a bloodbath and that's exactly what we got," technology analyst Carmi Levy told CBC News. "It's bad all round here, and worse, to push off the new product launch until 2013, it's just the worst possible news," Levy said.

Some analysts say with no new handsets this year, the pressure is growing on RIM to break up the company or find someone who will buy it because the market just won't wait until next year.

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"At this point there is a chance that we may never see a BB10 handset given RIM's track record," wrote National Bank analyst Kris Thompson in a note.

"RIM is intent on launching a 'distinct' smartphone platform; all we see at this point is an extinct platform. Are consumers and enterprises really going to wait for another platform? No!"

Chief executive Thorsten Heins told analysts the company will likely face further pressure on its bottom line over the next several quarters.

The new BlackBerry 10 operating system and phones have widely been considered the best chance to turn around the company's fortunes, which has lost huge chunks of market share to rivals like Apple's iPhone and devices using the Android operating system.

RIM 'an important company': Flaherty

Speaking from Ireland, where he was attending meetings, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty refused in a conference call with journalists in Canada to be drawn into discussion about whether the government would approve a possible takeover of RIM by a foreign company.

"If there were a [takeover] proposal for RIM or part of RIM, that would be reviewed if it fell under terms of the Investment Canada Act," Flaherty said. The government has come under pressure to clarify the "net benefit to Canada" requirement that must be satisfied before a foreign takeover of a large Canadian company can proceed.

"RIM is an important company, not just in Canada but globally," pointing out that he personally used BlackBerrys.

But when asked if there was anything the government could do to help the company, Flaherty said "the steps to be taken are really steps for the company to take to decide on its path forward in order to stabilize the company. So I will leave that to them....They need to look at their own options and choose their path."

With files from The Canadian Press