RIM Layoffs, Operating Loss Knock Shares Down

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TORONTO - A fresh batch of takeover speculation greeted BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (TSX:RIM) on Wednesday as analysts weighed in on the company's projected operating loss in the current quarter and its prospects for survival.

Shares of the Waterloo, Ont.-based company tumbled another 7.14 per cent, inching toward becoming a single-digit stock, after a statement from RIM late Tuesday said it hired two outside firms to advise on its troubled business and financial performance.

RIM was down 82 cents to close at $10.66 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Chief executive Thorsten Heins said competition is affecting sales of its smartphones, and that it would respond by reining in costs and cutting staff by unspecified numbers throughout the rest of the year.

But analysts are concerned about the speed at which RIM is reeling in expectations ahead of the rollout of the new BlackBerry 10 operating system later this year.

"The fundamentals of the company seem to be deteriorating even faster than I was expecting," said Sameet Kanade, a technology analyst at Northern Securities in an interview.

"But I think talks about licensing deals, partnerships and acquisition of RIM are all premature," he added.

There have been suggestions, including from some of RIM's shareholders, that RIM could separate operations that make the BlackBerry handhelds and PlayBook tablets from the operations responsible for networks and intellectual property.

Another possibility would be a more focused approach on fewer product lines, with greater emphasis on the business and government sectors and less on consumer-oriented devices that compete with Apple, Samsung and others.

"I think it would be premature to write the company off, although I do believe Blackberry 10 has to be a very competitive product for the company to bounce," said Charlie Wolf, an analyst at Needham & Company in New York.

"For the (next two or three quarters) this is going to be a messy situation because RIM doesn't have anything to sell, and so the only way they can make sales is to mark prices down on their phones."

Some analysts have also factored in RIM's dated inventory and restrained sales outlook, and responded by pulling back expectations.

Raymond James analyst Steven Li reduced the firm's target price for RIM's stock to US$12 from $15, with a "market perform" rating.

"Although we have highlighted the competitive pressure RIM faces in the form of fierce pricing competition at the lower end of the market, we believe the degree by which (sales and margins) have declined in the first quarter will still be a surprise to the street," Li wrote in a note.

"We believe there is a risk of another inventory write-down."

Wedbush Securities analyst Scott Sutherland also lowered his price target by $2 to US$11.50.

"While we believe the current strategy could cause RIM to go the way of Palm, we see value in the parts and thus see risks to being overly negative at current levels," Sutherland says in a research note released Wednesday.

National Bank analyst Kris Thompson said in a note titled "RIM Blows Up in Q1, Recovery Unlikely" that he considers the company up for sale.

"While buying this stock is like going to the casino, RIM does have over $4 per share of cash and intellectual property with a book value of about $6 per share," he noted.

"If you’re feeling lucky, this stock might be worth a dice-roll under $10 per share. We'd still avoid on fundamentals."

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