RIM’s Themes Shift to Concerns over BlackBerry Survival, Bankruptcy

Analysts have long debated whether Research In Motion could restore its reputation as a leading smartphone manufacturer.

But in the wake of a money-losing quarter whose results Goldman Sachs characterized as “startlingly weak,” and with thousands of employees preparing to be shown the door, the theme has increasingly become whether RIM can survive at all and avoid an event that would symbolize its gradual collapse: bankruptcy.

One analyst last month intimated that RIM’s survival is a bigger concern than the widely reported delay of the BlackBerry 10 technology that will power its next-generation devices.

“Management pushed out its BB10 launch to 1Q13 but at this point, we think it’s more about staying alive,” Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu wrote in a note June 29 following RIM’s dismal quarterly results. “We believe the company needs to be careful with its cash or risk facing bankruptcy.”

The Canadian company isn’t exactly light on cash: it ended the first part of June with $2.2 billion in cash, cash equivalents, short-term and long-term investments. However, analysts are worried about a cash burn for a company that anticipates another loss in its next quarter.

“We believe fundamentals continue to get worse and RIMM could run out of cash and need to raise capital within two years implying that as time rolls forward, if we are correct, the value of RIMM continues to go lower,” analysts at Citi Investment Research said, as Reuters reported.

The financial picture, Wall Street analysts point out, is ugly. In RIM’s most recent quarter, Goldman Sachs cited a hardware gross margin that was negative 10 percent in what the firm claims “is unprecedented in recent handset history.” Goldman attributed the lower margin to RIM”s “overly high cost structure” and “heavy discounting to maintain its subscriber base.”

Sasha Cekerevac of the Profit Confidential newsletter argues that RIM could be in trouble sooner rather than later.

“While some analysts take the market view that RIM might last 18-24 months before going under, I think it might be sooner,” Cekerevac wrote in an article. “Two reasons: the cost of laying off employees is going to be high, and the delay in introducing the new phones means more people are going to migrate to one of the other technology stocks.”

Wu of Sterne Agee also cited RIM’s planned 5,000 job cuts as a risk. RIM announced the cuts as part of a plan to save $1 billion.

Wall Street analysts continue to downgrade their ratings on the stock. Jefferies analysts, for instance, recently reiterated an “Underperform” rating and lowered their price target to $5 from $10. Goldman Sachs lowered its 12-month price target to $9 from $13.

Shares of RIM were trading Thursday afternoon at $7.41. Just a year ago, the stock was worth about four times that amount, closing at $28.48.

RIM has retained bankers to consider its strategic options, increasing speculation that the smartphone maker ultimately could be sold or broken up.

“At least RIM has been consistent over the past few years,” Cekerevac wrote. “It has consistently lost market share, consistently delayed introducing new products, and consistently disappointed investors.”

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