Remember when we called them Crackberries? Before there was ever an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone, there was the Blackberry, Research In Motion’s (NASDAQ:RIMM) pioneering smartphone so beloved that people spoke of it as an addictive substance.
Funny, nobody’s addicted anymore. The Crackberry talk reached a pitch two or three years ago, even as the iPhone was gobbling up market share. RIM’s stock peaked in June 2008 at $148.13 And now? It’s trading at less than a quarter of that value.
In fact, RIM has lost half of its value in the last four months alone, signaling a shift in Wall Street’s attitude toward the company from
patiently awaiting a turnaround to a foreboding that things might be taking an ugly turn. It’s not just the iPhone, or the cheap Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android phones that now rival them in quality — it’s the possibility that RIM may also have fumbled its best chance to be a leader in tablets.
Research In Motion will have a chance to dispel such gloom when it reports its first-quarter earnings after the market closes Thursday. But fighting the rising tide of pessimism will be tough. RIM has always had more than its share of bulls, not only investors who ardently defend the stock in message boards and web comments, but analysts who believed the company could hold its share in an increasingly competitive market for mobile devices.
In recent weeks, however, many bulls are defecting to the bear camp – at least among analysts. First, Wonderlich Securities downgraded the stock, stating bluntly in a note that “We not longer anticipate RIMM recovering to participate in the mainstream smartphone industry growth.” Then a Jeffries analyst published a note with the grim title “It Can Get Worse Before It Gets Better.”
Before long, others were offering their pessimism, too. Citibank stepped in to announce a downgrade as well, noting that the confidence
that the firm had held in RIM’s ability to capitalize on the weakness of another mobile giant, Nokia (NYSE:NOK), may have been misplaced. “RIMM is letting the Nokia share loss opportunity slip by as RIMM is launching new products later than expected yet competition is increasingly seizing this opportunity,” wrote analyst Jim Suva. Another analyst at Susquehanna even urged investors to “press the short” on RIMM.
The bear talk reached a crescendo last Friday as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and others weighed in with negative views. Many pointed to delays in the delay of new Blackberry products or the mixed reviews that RIM’s tablet, the Blackberry Playbook, was receiving. Many also noted that Apple is pushing ahead full steam with an iCloud initiative that could strengthen its appeal with consumers, developers and content giants.
There remain a few die-hard bulls, chief among them Research In Motion itself, which took the unusual step of issuing full-year guidance. The company sees $7.50 a share in earnings in fiscal year 2012. The Street is expecting $6.31 a share.
In RIM’s favor, there are signs that the Street may have turned too bearish. On Wednesday, analysts at Pacific Crest and BCG issued notes
saying that RIM will likely beat the consensus $1.32 a share expected for the first quarter. But most investors are going to be looking at
the full-year guidance, and analysts are expecting that it could be revised down to as low as $6 a share.
Such a move could cause RIMM shares to slide even further. The company has few bulls in its camp these days, and if executives abandon their own bullish stance on the company’s future, who will be left to stand up for Research In Motion?