Research In Motion: Any Hope Left?

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Carl Icahn provided Research In Motion ( RIMM) with another outage on Monday, but this one was directed at its stock price and not its network.

The irascible activist investor said the maker of the BlackBerry wasn't on his "radar" as a potential target.

It didn't surprise me. I said the moment the rumor appeared saying that he was thinking of taking a stake that it made no sense for two reasons. First, why would shoot out a rumor to drive up the price of the stock before buying it? And second, he just got out of Motorola Mobility ( MMI), thanks to putting the screws to Google ( GOOG) but he was still under water on the investment. Why would he want to immediately turn around and jump into RIM?

So, the question now is whether is there is any hope for RIM. The answer is yes, but not for a while and not with the current co-CEOs in place.

The two co-CEOs are committed to continuing to drive the company forward on its current path, which has been so disastrous over the last 18 months. The company continues to have no one responsible for marketing and the co-CEOs cannot handle it.

Shareholders should feel no assurances that these two men -- and the directors they assembled to be on their board -- will have the ability to turn things around. There will have to be a change of at least one man for things to start to move. If I had to pick, I'd say Balsillie should go because technical skills are more in need for RIM moving forward than Balsillie's sales and communications skills.

But there is no question that any activist would be signing up for several quarters of pain ahead of them if they got long the stock now.

RIM is going through a terrible trajectory at the moment. It is shedding market share in the U.S. at an alarming rate to Apple ( AAPL) and Google. It is unlikely RIM will ever claw this market share back again.

Despite that downward trend, I don't think the current stock price doesn't fully reflect the flush-out in U.S. market share that is going to happen in the next three quarters.

The other shoe to drop for RIM, which is as yet unappreciated, is the coming of the QNX-based phones. RIM hasn't told us exactly when these new phones will appear. They've only said "early next year."

The problem with RIM's forecasts is that it's been quite off in the last year. The Street has very little confidence in them. What's more, RIM has historically played around with the fact that its fiscal year runs differently than the calendar year. Most people assume that when RIM says the new phones will come "early next year," it means January or February. What if they mean July or August? Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie have never been quizzed on this.

But, even if the phones come out in January, I don't expect them to wow customers. In fact, it will probably start a lot of heavy selling in RIM's stock when they fail to create a buzz among consumers. What else is there to hold on to if you're long RIM, other than these new phones?

The QNX operating system is going to be crammed to fit these phones. There are inevitably going to be bugs, given the rush job that is going on over in Waterloo. (To see a previous example of this, look at the PlayBook.) Any mistakes will be seized on by the press.

After the subsequent capitulation sell-off, there could still be a great little business in RIM. However, it will be a lot lower than it is now. And it will still need some big changes at the top.

Readers Also Like:


At the time of publication, Jackson was long Apple.

Eric Jackson is founder and president of Ironfire Capital and the general partner and investment manager of Ironfire Capital US Fund LP and Ironfire Capital International Fund, Ltd. You can follow Jackson on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ericjackson or @ericjackson