September 17, 2010 / 12:17 AM / 7 years ago

RIM woes in spotlight despite robust results

5 Min Read

<p>A customer walks into a BlackBerry store in Mumbai August 31, 2010.Danish Siddiqui</p>

TORONTO (Reuters) - Shares in Research In Motion ended almost flat on Friday as robust results were mostly overlooked and analysts stuck to pessimistic views on the BlackBerry maker amid a tough fight for share in the booming smartphone market, particularly in the United States.

A string of analysts cut share price targets for RIM, even though the Canadian company hurdled market forecasts for earnings per share, revenue and shipments, in its quarterly results on Thursday and forecast more strong growth in the current quarter.

RIM is increasingly dependent on lower-margin emerging markets in Latin America and Asia for sales growth -- 52 percent of its revenue came from outside the United States in the last quarter -- but India and other countries are also causing headaches with demands for access to encrypted data.

"The international growth, particularly in emerging markets and some of the prepaying markets is doing exceptionally well and it is masking this weakness we're seeing in North America," said Jeffrey Fidacaro at Susquehanna Financial, which downgraded RIM to "negative" before Thursday's results and has a share-price target of $37.50, one of the lowest in a scattered market.

A drop in net subscriber adds, which at 4.5 million failed to meet RIM's own guidance, also worried investors.

RIM's dominance of the corporate sector, where its secure email once reigned supreme, is weakening as employers increasingly allow use of Apple's iPhone and a slew of devices running Google's Android operating system.

Bernstein analyst Pierre Ferragu calculated subscriber growth was flat in North America in the quarter and saw little in the latest results to alter his negative view on the stock.

"The quarter shows no evidence of an improvement of the fundamentals of the business," he wrote in a note.

Torch Rolling-Out

RIM conceded that the launch of competing devices early in the quarter had hurt, but it said the U.S. launch of the new BlackBerry Torch in mid-August helped total shipment numbers.

RIM launched the Torch, a touchscreen device with a slideout keypad that runs a revamped operating system, with AT&T in the United States two weeks before the end of the quarter. It will roll it out to 75 other carriers worldwide this quarter.

The Torch played catch-up with the U.S. launches of the iPhone 4, new Motorola Droid devices, Samsung's Galaxy, and HTC's Evo.

Analysts that took a more positive view of RIM's fortunes focused on the potential of the Torch and its OS 6 operating system outside the United States.

"If (the BlackBerry) is the Model T of the industry (the Torch) is looking like a hot rod version right now," said Wunderlich's Matthew Robison, who held his share-price target at $67. "If these product cycles work we may be making analogies to Porsche, which has been making 911s for 46 years."

He and others expect security concerns to be resolved soon and take comfort from stronger guidance from a company that is usually conservative in such matters.

Dushan Batrovic at Dundee Securities raised his price target to $70 from $65 and maintained a "buy" recommendation.

Challenges Ahead

RIM's Nasdaq-listed shares ended 0.3 percent higher at $46.64, roughly 8.5 times forward earnings expectations. That price was well down from Thursday's post-market levels.

RIM stock is down 43 percent since this time last year, while shares in Apple are up almost 50 percent and Google is down nearly 2 percent.

At a peak near $150 a share in June 2008, RIM traded at more than 40 times forward earnings expectations.

Susquehanna's Fidacaro, who values the stock at eight times his estimate for 2012 earnings, said more optimistic share price targets, some as high as $90, harked back to a lost age, when RIM had a near monopoly on mobile devices with secure corporate communications.

"The challenge for analysts and investors is getting the valuation multiple right on a stock, especially in tech, which has earnings that will be potentially declining year over year," Fidacaro said.

Apple and Google trade at roughly 19 times forward earnings estimates.

Editing by Janet Guttsman and Peter Galloway

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