Research In Motion Is on the Verge

RIM Headquarters
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RIM Headquarters

Research In Motion is dangerously close to a distinction that few companies achieve.

It’s also one that no company would ever desire.

The company that brought us the BlackBerry, a word that is very unpopular in our house because of my propensity to use the device at all hours, is trading very close to its net current asset value.

Another 10-cent drop in its share price and it will become what is known as a “net/net,” a term used to describe a stock that is trading for less than its net current asset value (NCAV).

Research In Motion has had quite a fall since its shares commanded $140 back in 2008.

Currently trading at just 1.01 times NCAV, Research In Motion has had a rough year.

The company earned more than $3.4 billion in 2011 on revenue of $19.9 billion. That represented a solid 17 percent net profit margin.

Last year, revenue fell 7.4 percent, but the bottom line plunged nearly 66 percent to $1.16 billion. Consensus estimates for fiscal 2013 call for a further drop in revenue, to a bit more than just over $10 billion, and for losses of $1.51 per share.

Research In Motion has not done itself any favors in the public relations department either.

This past Friday it issued yet another apology — this time to users in Europe and Africa who faced three-hour delays in sending and receiving messages.

Technical difficulties aside, the company is losing market share and facing intense competition, especially from Apple’s iPhone.

Even yours truly is contemplating making the switch. Now I’m not the most technically savvy, and I don’t need the latest gadgets. I’ve used a BlackBerry for years and never had any service issues. Overall, the BlackBerry has saved me, from a business perspective, many times.

But I have had problems with the device itself. My current version is on its last legs; the trackball is not working properly, and I’m not sure what I’ll do at upgrade time.

My (and other users’) BlackBerry woes aside, the question is whether there’s any life left in this company. Will the company’s next-generation devices, due out in early 2013, help to right the ship and reverse market share declines?

In terms of the fundamentals alone, RIMM does look intriguing. The company ended last quarter with $1.94 billion, or $3.70 per share, in cash and short-term investments, and no debt.

Besides trading very close to net current asset value, RIMM shares also trade at just 0.52 times tangible book value. But to some in the “value” arena, it looked intriguing at $20-plus this time last year, and again at $14 in May, and again at $10 in June. Now at $6 and change, it’s either a screaming “buy” or a value trap.

I have not decided yet. There’s some value there, but what is it? I’ve fallen prey to the dreaded value trap before; it comes with the territory.

The jury is still out on this one. If the company indeed puts out the killer product that convinces current BlackBerry users not to switch, if it can regain profitability, and if it can solve the technical issues in order to avoid another round of outages, then this is downright cheap.

But that’s a lot of “ifs.”

I’m staying on the sidelines, at least for now, but I will be watching.

—By Contributor Jonathan Heller

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At the time of publication, Jonathan Heller had no positions in the stocks mentioned in this article.