Do you consider smartphone pioneer Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) a lost cause — or an investment opportunity? While many have written off the Canadian BlackBerry maker, some people are buying up the company’s bargain-priced stock.
RIMM supporters are hoping for an Apple-like (NASDAQ:AAPL) turnaround. However, a repeat of Apple’s renaissance — going from written off, struggling computer maker to consumer electronics powerhouse — seems farfetched. Especially when the company repeatedly misses deadlines and seems incapable of releasing the “cutting-edge” hardware it’s been promising for the past year.
Things move fast in the world of mobile technology. Just consider how quickly Apple went from having zero presence in the market to being a dominant player.
RIMM’s then co-CEO Mike Lazardis announced BBX, the new BlackBerry operating system, in October 2011. Since that time, the name of the OS has changed after a trademark lawsuit, its PlayBook tablet has languished in bargain bins and the company has been mired in an extensive strategic review; but a BlackBerry smartphone that runs the new OS (now named BB10) has yet to appear. At last report, BB10 smartphones will be delayed until 2013.
What’s happened in the mobile world during that time? Remember, things move fast:
- Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) bought Motorola Mobility.
- Apple’s iPhone 4S launched with 4 million units sold on the release weekend.
- Apple released iOS 5 and has announced iOS 6 with fall 2012 release date.
- Samsung’s Galaxy S II released in North America.
- Samsung’s Galaxy S III released, becomes a top-selling smartphone with 10 million units sold in first two months.
- Microsoft announces its Windows Phone 8 operating system with fall 2012 release date.
- Google releases Sandwich (Android version 4.0), then Jellybean (Android version 4.1) operating systems for mobile devices.
- RIMM’s share of U.S. mobile subscribers drops from 19.7% to 6.5%.
- Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) throws in the towel and stops selling its own smartphones in the U.S.
- Between them, Apple and Samsung now control 55% of the U.S. smartphone market and snag 90% of world’s smartphone profits.
- Nokia (NYSE:NOK) drops from having nearly 15% of world smartphone sales to 6.6%.
- Apple stock rose from the $400 range to $620 today; RIMM’s stock dropped from the $24 range to $7.62 today.
The list doesn’t include items like the iPhone 5, which is a lock to be released long before any BB10 smartphone and is expected to blow the iPhone 4S launch numbers out of the water. Nor does it include RIMM’s own challenges in that time, including replacing its co-founding co-CEOs, an exodus of senior executives and being hit with a $147 million patent lawsuit judgement — although that has been appealed.
The point is, while RIMM has been treading water the past year (and not very effectively), the competitive landscape around it has completely changed. It is now effectively a niche player with business users being its primary remaining strong point; but the iPhone and Android smartphones are eroding that market as well.
RIMM’s Q1 earnings included such highlights as a $518 million loss, revenues down 33% from the previous quarter and an additional 5,000 layoffs. Reaction to the results prompted the company’s CEO to write an op-ed piece addressing shareholder concerns and trying to combat the perception RIMM was “a company at the end.” RIMM’s lack of debt and $2 billion in cash have been pointed to as signs that it’s in no danger of collapse, but a few more half-billion-dollars-in-the-red quarters will quickly change that.
And yet, some investors see something in RIMM. Fairfax Financial Holdings, led by Prem Watsa, has upped its stake in RIMM to nearly 10%. Does Watsa know something the rest of us don’t?
Despite the relentless bad news, RIMM still has 78 million users, including many security-conscious government agencies. Its BlackBerry Messenger Service remains a standard for secure communications. The company holds a patent portfolio that analysts estimate could fetch between $1 billion and $4 billion.
With a current market cap of under $4 billion, it might be worth buying shares even in the event that the company simply closes shop and sells off its assets. One name that just popped up is IBM (NYSE:IBM), which Bloomberg reports is considering buying RIMM’s enterprise-services business. There’s always the possibility — however unlikely — that the BB10 BlackBerries will lead to a RIMM resurgence. But perhaps the most likely scenario is that another company might snap up RIMM whole and incorporate elements of its technology.
Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) was touted as a possibility but seems focused on its upcoming Windows Phone 8. A struggling Nokia still has the resources for an acquisition, but would two struggling platforms equal one successful one?
The best bet might be Samsung, a highly successful company that reportedly has discussed the possibility of licensing BB10 from RIMM. Under fire from Apple over product design and limited by Google’s Android OS, Samsung could see RIMM as potential way to address both of these issues while scooping up a good chunk of RIMM’s user base.
No matter how this plays out, at nearly decade-long lows below $8 per share, RIMM offers better odds than buying lottery tickets, at a comparable price.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.