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RIM Gets a Prudence Payoff

When Research In Motion (RIMM) and Palm (PALM) reported their quarterly results on Thursday, they had lot of similar things to say.

The two companies, which each essentially offer enhanced cell phones, both posted better-than-expected numbers for the latest quarter. And they both posted strong gains of new customers.

Both companies have come under intense scrutiny in recent months and have seen their stocks slide as a result. Potentially feeding into investor skepticism, both companies warned Thursday of potentially disappointing results in the next quarter.

However, they both projected results will pick up in subsequent quarters as they rollout new products.

Despite all the similarities, the market's verdict was anything but similar. In recent trading on Friday, shares of RIM were up about 5%, while Palm's stock was off nearly 12%.

To be sure, there were some differences in their reports. While RIM's current-quarter guidance range was only slightly under the Street's consensus at its midpoints, Palm's fell far shy on both the top and bottom lines. Still, Palm offered a fairly specific forecast for its full year that was above expectations, while RIM didn't offer any kind of numeric outlook for coming periods, simply offering qualitative assurances that its business was "going great."

But the difference seemed to be in how investors and analysts interpreted the companies' expectations. RIM was given a pass for prudently underpromising, while analysts argued that Palm's report raised questions about whether it really could meet its bullish outlook in coming periods.

RIM's management is "deliberately being very conservative," says Chyanne Fickes, a portfolio manager with Stone Asset Management, which is long RIM. Given the recent market selloff of tech and other stocks, "clearly there's no upside for any company to promise anything that don't know they can absolutely deliver."
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