Investors have abandoned Research In Motion (RIMM), which may finally make it a good investment again. Twenty months ago, the smartphone company's shares traded at $85. The stock now changes hands at around $49.
RIM's travails have been widely chronicled in the press. Last week, it dropped its earnings per share target for the current quarter to $1.33 from its previously stated $1.51. However, even with that lowered target, consensus estimates are for EPS of $7.53 in the next fiscal year, up from $6.87 this year. RIM is still extremely profitable, with gross margins over 44%. Last year, the company made $3.4 billion on $19.9 billion in revenue, and shipped 53.2 million smartphones. It's worth noting that Apple's gross margins are only 41%. RIM's sales may have slowed some, but its operating efficiency has not declined.
In fact, RIM has some advantages moving forward, which most Wall Street analysts have chosen to overlook. Although its forays into the consumer market have been largely unsuccessful, RIM still controls a large fraction of the enterprise and business market. And while the release of its new Playbook was met with mixed reviews, reports of the tablet's early failure may have been overblown. RBC Capital Markets estimates that RIM will sell 500,000 Playbooks in the current quarter. The research firm said that means the RIM product could end up having a better launch than the Samsung (SSNLF) Galaxy or the Motorola (MMI) Xoom.
While the early sales of RIM's Playbook may not come close to matching those of Apple's (AAPL) iPad, the Canadian smartphone firm could grab a solid second place in the tablet business. Companies like Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and Dell (DELL) are arriving late to the tablet market, which may help RIM secure a strong position.
Also, it would be a mistake to assume that RIM's success in the smartphone market is over. When the company lowered EPS forecasts, it said an aging product line was partially to blame. But RIM says it has next-generation BlackBerry handsets coming, and those may revive its sales in the smartphone market, particularly if some have consumer appeal.
Finally, there are two wild cards which could impact RIM's future, or at least the value of its shares. The first is that the RIM board may decide to oust one of its co-CEOs, Jim Balsillie or Mike Lazaridis, in favor of a high-profile tech executive. RIM's valuation has also dropped to around $25 billion, a level at which it could be a takeover target. Google (GOOG) and Microsoft (MSFT) have both been identified as possible buyers.
RIM stock may be down sharply from its peak, but it probably won't stay there.
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