Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) got a pleasant surprise on Tuesday: Bernstein Research analyst Pierre Ferragu upgraded RIM’s rating from underperform to market perform. Ferragu said in his note to investors that while he thinks RIM is in a death spiral, there’s still some value in the stock.
RIM shares in turn saw a modest boost, climbing from around $16.40 to just below $18, back above the support level of $16.95 after sinking below it in the past week to a 52-week low of $15.98. The stock has declined 70% in the past year. So, even the faintest praise from Wall Street is good news for RIM.
For a while as smartphone users — both regular consumers and RIM’s once-reliable business audience — abandoned the BlackBerry for Apple‘s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone and devices powered by Google‘s (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android operating system, Wall Street at least maintained interest in RIM’s stock. Not anymore. Bernstein Research may have upped its rating for RIM, but the chorus of other analysts’ downgrades is deafening. In recent weeks, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, RBC Capital Markets, Barclays and JPMorgan Chase have all called investors to either sell RIM or at least stay neutral. Stern Agee’s Shaw Wu downgraded it from buy to neutral on Tuesday, slashing his 2012 and 2013 earnings expectations, just as Bernstein upped its rating.
Canny investors know that when there’s smoke, there’s fire. The Tuesday uptick from RIM is likely to be a bitter memory come the company’s Dec. 15 earnings call. Considering the catastrophic failure of the PlayBook tablet and milquetoast sales of the new BlackBerry Bold phones, RIM may tumble to price levels not seen since 2003.
Here’s something to consider, though. RIM announced what may ultimately be its most significant release going forward. It wasn’t a new BlackBerry phone or a new tablet. It announced Mobile Fusion.
Coming in the first quarter of 2012, Mobile Fusion isn’t a new device at all but a new security service and app for RIM’s business clients that works on the iPhone, iPad and Google Android devices. The service would allow corporate IT departments to monitor and protect phones remotely, and it would keep RIM in the enterprise network service game without needing to rely on BlackBerry phones, the PlayBook or the BlackBerry operating system. RIM will announcing pricing and release information for Mobile Fusion early next year.
And there’s a roadmap for RIM’s future. Even if it remains a player in smartphones as a manufacturer, the days of RIM’s growth are over. Gartner expects RIM’s share of the global smartphone market to shrink to just 11% by 2015. Unless there’s a miracle — consumers latch onto a new BlackBerry device to an obsessive degree, Apple bows out of the mobile market — RIM is done in the hardware business. Loyalty to the BlackBerry brand has crumbled. Brand Keys placed BlackBerry at No. 9 among the most trusted brands in 2010. For 2011, it’s ranked No. 60.
RIM still holds some cachet among businesses. If the company downsizes its operation on a massive scale over the next five years, ceasing device production altogether and focusing purely on services like Mobile Fusion and others for corporate clients of all sizes, it could very well survive as a public company.
However, investors who were once enamored with RIM as a cult stock need to finally give up the ghost. Like BlackBerry once-commanding share of the mobile phone market, the lofty days of RIM trading around $150 are never coming back.