In recent posts on InvestorPlace over the last few months (here and here), I have been decidedly bearish on Research In Motion (RIMM -0.82%) and its new line of BlackBerry 10 devices.
Readers shouted me down for my lack of understanding of these gadgets, citing their great appeal as secure business tools and not toys. The share price has proven me wrong, with a 40%-plus run in the last three months.
A smarter man would probably just shut up and admit he was wrong. But I want to double down on my bearish case for Research In Motion stock.
BlackBerry 10 might prove naysayers wrong and the OS might be unveiled in a few weeks with great features and speed … but frankly, it's too little too late.
Patent fight ends badly
Nokia (NOK -2.58%) and RIM recently made waves with a deal over a patent dispute that involves a big one-time payment to Nokia. Wall Street did not respond favorably, causing Research In Motion stock to sell off sharply on the news. And though the stock rebounded slightly after Christmas, it remains 15% below pre-headline levels. The payment includes $65 million up front, according to Venturebeat, with more to follow. Granted, RIM does about $3 billion in revenue per quarter, so this is a drop in the bucket, but it's hardly good news going forward.
Service-fee worries: Soon after the settlement, downward momentum was fueled again by headlines -- this time from worries about fees. Specifically, RIM charges wireless carriers like AT&T (T +0.53%) and Verizon (VZ -0.07%), as well as major corporations, to route secure, encrypted messages around the globe. The company has tried to backpedal, stating changes would be gradual over the long-term, but some remain very concerned. A recent Wall Street Journal report indicates service charges account for one-third of RIM revenue -- and any disruption here caused by a rate hike could be substantial to the bottom line.
PlayBook ain't playing
I remain convinced that tablets are going to be the biggest driver of future gadget sales and will be the biggest battle to be fought among the tech titans. Unfortunately, while Google (GOOG -0.05%) is forging ahead with its Nexus line, Amazon (AMZN +3.34%) has the Kindle Fire and Microsoft (MSFT +0.90%) is seeing lukewarm success with its Surface tablet, RIM is dead in the water. CNN Money reports it shipped a meager 255,000 PlayBooks in the entire fourth quarter. Even if BB10 gets RIM back into the smartphone game, it will never compete on the tablet front. (Microsoft owns and publishes Top Stocks, an MSN Money site.)
What about apps?
BlackBerry continues to lag hopelessly behind Apple (AAPL -1.19%) and its app universe. And it's even behind Google's Android. Yes, RIM is working on it frantically, but it will take time -- time that BlackBerry can't afford to lose if this is indeed going to be its rebirth in 2013.
And by the way, Android and iOS aren't going to stand still, so RIM needs to not just ramp up its app store to the current playing field, but try to catch leaders that continue to run at top speed.
Negativity over leaks
Say what you want about the tech blogosphere and leaks of new products, but the fact is these rumors and pre-reviews matter. And unfortunately for RIM, the leaks are not favorable. Take this cutting Gizmodo headline: "Leaked BB10 Screenshots Look Like Every Other OS Except Crappier." Ouch. There are favorable reviews out there, too, but the sharks already are in the water.
Still no profits
The biggest reason I remain bearish is the bottom line. Estimates show Research In Motion will remain unprofitable through fiscal year 2014. Sure, maybe the BB10 launch will be better than expected -- but it needs to blow the doors off to make RIMM profitable again anytime soon. That cash burn dips into growth and research potential, which is horrible for a company that is already playing catch-up. And for those who think BlackBerry users are eagerly awaiting this relaunch to buy in earnest, consider that in the last quarter, RIMM lost 1 million subscribers. Doesn’t sound like waiting in the wings as much as abandoning ship when folks give up the old OS altogether.
Do or die for RIM
Furthermore, because of this lack of profits, there is no room for error here with BB10. If the devices unveiled at the global launch event on Jan. 30 do not catch on instantly and with enthusiasm … there is no plan B. The brand will never recover. So if you're thinking of investing, remember that your choice is a stark one: Either BlackBerry's newest incarnation will wow techies and investors alike, or the company will circle the drain until it disappears. There is no in between.
If you're a believer and want to stake your portfolio on your love of this device, feel free. But the risk-reward is unpalatable in my book -- even if I didn't think that RIM was doomed.