Don't Count RIM Out

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- We are only a few games out of the spring season training and already some are calling who is going to win the world series of smartphones. Stories abound how Research In Motion ( RIMM) should all but be written off by users and investors alike.

Some pundits have already declared Apple ( APPL) the winner, with possibly Google ( GOOG) becoming a spoiler if only to keep things entertaining. Even Microsoft ( MSFT), arguably the most powerful software company in the world has been declared by some to be unfit to take the field.

Granted, it's doubtful that a "Wild Thing" sporting black rimmed glasses hitter is going to put RIM back in the No. 1 spot in North America this season or next. However, if we have learned anything about the smartphones space, we have learned the ground shifts quickly.

A short three years ago, Palm ( PALM) produced the PRE and for a while the PRE was the darling of smartphones. Almost as quickly as the PRE hit the market, Palm became nothing more than a new headache for its acquirer Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ). Unfortunately for HP, the best product to come from the Palm purchase was the HP TouchPad. To say the HP TouchPad with webOS struck out would be kind.

Before the PRE, HP had a winning smartphone. The quad-band GSM/GPRS HP iPaq was advanced and popular. The iPaq had it all, Internet, big screen, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Pocket PC OS by Microsoft, and built-in camera. Currently, HP is little more than a case study in allowing market share to slip away.

Sprint ( S), AT&T ( T), and Verizon ( VZ) may have had to sell their collective souls to put iPhones on the showroom floor, and each may have made the right choice at the time of signing, but it remains to be seen if the indentured servitude each cell phone carrier owes to Apple will be enough to keep RIM from a comeback. Sprint was the last carrier to sign what must have felt like a 30-year mortgage with Apple, but the strategy does appear to be paying off. One could argue Apple's dominance, along with volume commitments by the largest three carriers, guarantees RIM will perpetually face an uphill battle.

Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon may steer customers walking in off the street toward the iPhone, however, extrapolating the end of RIM as an investment due to the Apple focus by the major carriers is a mistake.

RIM's Second Act

While Apple is making headlines with record sales in China, RIM is also making news in what will become the most populated country in the world soon. Last month, RIM launched the BlackBerry Curve 9220 in India. India is increasingly becoming more crucial for global revenue growth.

India is the first of several countries expected to receive the Curve, with all eyes on Indonesia to follow as a gauge of product acceptance and what the future may hold for RIM. Undoubtedly, the Curve will provide a much-needed injection of revenue for the quarter and likely more.

By early fourth quarter we can expect to see BlackBerry 10, unless RIM does the unthinkable and allows for yet another delay. RIM has positioned itself with only one real option for BlackBerry 10, either RIM gets it right or they should put up the "for sale sign" in the front window. The markets will not stand for another delay and if they try to release it before it's ready, like they did with the PlayBook, I suggest for RIM to leave out the batteries and hope no one notices.

Some have asked, given how crucial it is for RIM to execute perfectly and the release of BlackBerry 10 with lukewarm early reviews, can RIM truly be considered for an investment now? Richard Saintvilus's article points out a 20% revenue drop in the latest reported quarter. Another contributor I highly respect is Rocco Pendola, and he too wrote RIM should be avoided and lacks upside.

I don't share the opinion that RIM is not a valid value here. I suggest RIM offers a compelling risk-to-reward and I will demonstrate what I believe is the best way to capitalize on RIM exposure.

The Outlook

First, a rising tide lifts all boats. Smartphone sales are rising rapidly in markets with the greatest potential for sales. China and India are two well-known areas making headlines, but there are many other markets and all markets are growing in unit sales.

Secondly, RIM is more than a hardware manufacturer. The company has key government and corporate contracts that are not easily displaced. At some point, based on Moore's Law and the history of computers, hardware will become a commodity item anyway. RIM offers profitable services beyond the hardware sales. This makes RIM different and more valuable compared to Palm.

Third, even if RIM loses half its current market share in North America, it would only lower revenue by about 12%. RIM receives 70% (and likely higher by the next quarterly report) outside of North America.

Fourth, as grim as things are, and we can all likely agree the situation is not satisfactory, the news is fully priced into the stock. Yes, RIM is horrible and your neighbor just upgraded from a BlackBerry to an iPhone 4S, but the share price reflects how negative sentiment has become. RIM is likely worth north of $7 billion on the chopping block. With 515 million shares and rounding down it's difficult to come up with a number under $12.50. Simply using cash and other assets provides a natural floor for the stock price.

Fifth and most influential for me are the technical indicators on the chart. Based on my technical analysis, RIM is near oversold.

RIMM Options

Combining what I see on the chart and stock option premiums I especially like a bullish credit spread for a conservative approach. The September $12 strike put options can be sold for about $1.90 and hedged with $7 strike puts for 23 cents. The total risk is about $3.33 with a total profit potential of $1.67 per spread if RIM closes at $12 or higher on expiration day.

For a more aggressive approach, the September $13 strike put at $2.50 has greater profit and loss potential. Selling put options has less risk than buying the stock outright. Risk mitigation should always be the highest priority.

Remember, the season is just beginning and the top spot changes often.
At the time of publication, the author was long HPQ.

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