Rodney Dangerfield No More? RIM Earns New Respect
Special to CNBC.com
Not that long ago, the beleaguered BlackBerry maker was abandoned by analysts to the same fate that overtook the now obsolete smartphone maker Palm, which ultimately ended up cannibalized by Hewlett Packard. Yet at least for the moment, RIM is the beneficiary of a wave of newfound optimism that is catapulting its stock from the 52-week low it hit on Sept 24. (Read more: All Those Tech Stocks You Hated? They're Booming Now.)
Since then, the stock has nearly doubled, trading just below $12 on Friday and near its highest level since May.
Ever since analysts boosted their price targets on RIM, it's been off to the races for the bruised BlackBerry maker. Over the years, the company suffered defections from both e-mail reliant business clients and status-conscious consumers who felt the BlackBerry paled in comparison to other smartphones.
Indeed, until very recently RIM was all but left for dead in the digital wars pitting Apple's iPhone against Samsung's alaxy. In September, however, the company began earning grudging praise from analysts.
It surprised markets with a robust earnings report, and finally put a timetable on the expected launch of its BlackBerry 10. (Read more: New BlackBerry 10 a 'Mind-Changing' Experience: RIM CEO.)
As in all cases where a beaten-down stock suddenly finds buyers, context is everything. Goldman Sachs analysts note that while the company's shares have surged nearly 80 percent since its September low, it's still down a whopping 92 percent from its 2008 peak at $148.13.
"Given that short interest in the stock is at an all-time high at 20 percent of shares outstanding, we believe short covering has contributed to the sharp bounce off the lows," said Goldman in a caution-laden research note this week. STill, the firm also joined the party by upgrading RIM's stock to a "buy" this week, helping feed the rally.
Even analysts who – at least for now – extol the virtues of RIM's stock are making caveats in the same breath. Most are reluctant to say the company has turned a corner. Goldman cited a "lack of follow-through demand" on the BlackBerry 10 launch a "primary risk" to its outlook.
To be certain, RIM's fundamental problems run deep. Although RIM currently has about 80 million subscribers, corporations have slowly but decisively shifted away from the BlackBerry as an enterprise device. Sporadic network outages, along with the BlackBerry's inability to keep pace with other smartphones, cost RIM market share and prompted investors to shun its stock.
Meanwhile, technology snafus made consumers migrate toward the sleeker, app-filled devices offered by Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy.
RIM "is undergoing massive restructuring and a sales reorganization," said Kris Thompson, analyst at National Bank Financial, told CNBC this week. Although Thompson helped kickstart the company's surge, he called his upgrade a "go with the flow" judgment call. (Read more: RIM Could Rise on Wings of BlackBerry 10: Pro.)
"We don't want to bet against the dollars flowing to the stock," he said. "If the BB10 gets good reviews upon launch, it's off to the races."
The excitement surrounding a new device is likely to keep RIM's stock buoyed in the near term. Yet doubts still abound, and that will continue to cap a stock that has shed 23 percent year to date.
"It certainly makes sense that RIM does go lower here," said Brian Stutland, president of Stutland Equities, to CNBC this week. He called its surging stock a good sign for a broad market that "wants to put money to work somewhere," he warned RIM could be heading lower.