Research In Motion doubles off its lows

Some say the BlackBerry maker is the new Palm. It isn't.

By TheStreet Staff Dec 12, 2012 12:41PM

Businessman in car with smartphone copyright Image Source, Image Source, Getty ImagesStreet logo

By Eric Jackson

 

As of Tuesday, Research In Motion (RIMM) has officially doubled off its lows earlier in the year of $6.22.

 

It closed at $12.60, up 6% on the day. There was news that it had released the SDK for developers interested in building apps for the BB10 phones that will be released in February.

 

Investors are excited because they assume that if the new BlackBerry offerings sell well, the stock is extraordinarily cheap.

 

Yet, the bears on RIM, who have been right since 2009, say the stock's rise is a mirage and it is doomed to retrace all its gains once it actually starts shipping. They say RIM is the new Palm.

 

I'm with the RIM bulls on this one -- and I have a long position, so I'm biased (although I was short for a long time from $70 to $20).

 

RIM isn't Palm.

 

Palm never really had an installed base. It had a "cool" phone according to the tech reviewers back in early 2009 with the Pre. Smart phones were just starting to take off in a big way and there really was only iPhone and BlackBerry at the time. (Back in 2009, Android was still way back in the rear-view mirror.)

 

So, the Palm Pre did look cool at the time. It had a cool interface. People began to dream how many units could be sold and at what average price. You don't have to sell too many into a huge global market that's growing like gangbusters to suddenly get to some compelling valuation numbers for Palm as a company.

 

That's exactly what happened as Palm's stock went from around $2 in January 2009 -- just before Palm announced the Pre -- to $16, just before the Pre started selling in June that year. Huge run. It actually makes the RIM run of the last few months seem puny.

 

And then came the crash in Palm's stock. That's what the RIM bears want to tell you is coming. The new OS is a mirage, they say. RIM's U.S. market share is so low now that no one is going to care about the new phones when they arrive. The Microsoft (MSFT) Windows 8 phones have been a bust for Nokia (NOK). (Microsoft owns and publishes Top Stocks, an MSN Money site.)

 

But Palm never had 80 million subscribers globally like RIM. Of these subscribers, only eight million are in the U.S. RIM had 20 million US subscribers a few years ago and the smart phone market has doubled since then. So, RIM has certainly missed out on a golden opportunity in the U.S.

 

However, 80 million subscribers is still 80 million subscribers.

 

Imagine if you were one of these 80 million (I'm not). You've been laughed at and ridiculed for the last three years by your friends and family. Yet, you still like your BlackBerry.

 

I assume that a lot of those subscribers are going to buy a new BlackBerry when it becomes available.

 

According to surveys that Scotia Capital analyst Gus Papageorgiou has seen, 70% of existing RIM subscribers plan to upgrade. That would be massive and I can't quite imagine that's possible, even in my wildest dreams. However, 30 to 40 million out of 80 million seems very doable (including a few million of completely new BlackBerry subscribers).

 

RIM already has a bunch of relationships with global carriers. Palm did not.

 

So, the RIM optimists -- just like the Palm optimists -- are right that, if (and it's a big if) RIM can sell a lot of phones, this is a very profitable business and a very undervalued stock.

 

I was on Breakout on Yahoo! Finance with Jeff Macke last week talking about my views on BlackBerry. Jeff asked me if I'm just in this as a trade until the new phones ship. Of course, everything's a trade, and I might decide to get out of the stock if it runs up too much between now and February. However, I'm envisioning this as a one year trade.

 

RIM could be the AOL (AOL) stock of 2013. AOL was left for dead in August 2011 after bad earnings. It was at $10/share. Earlier last month, it closed above $40. Yet, no one discussed it all the way up from $10.

 

I think RIM will be the same. The story will play out in 2013 over multiple earnings reports.

 

At the time of publication the author had positions in RIMM, YHOO and AAPL.

 

 

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