Beware the Phony Santas of the Stock Market

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Maybe it's Christmas. Maybe it's the approach of the New Year, and the fear deep inside every money manager's gut that they're about to be evaluated for this year's calls and found wanting.

But every December, it seems we get stock touts going on the TV and pushing losers, calling them winners, and dragging gullible investors into going along, until the bottom drops out like a New Year's hangover.

This year's sucker bets are Facebook ( FB) and Research in Motion ( RIMM). Since November 13 Facebook is up by about a third, to $24 per share. RIMM -- the Blackberry people -- hit a bottom near $6.50/share back in late September and it has since risen to over $11, a gain of nearly 75%.

I call these sucker bets because a lot of people have lost money in FB and RIMM during the year, and because it's mostly hope that has these stocks rising. In the case of Facebook, that hope is a mobile strategy heavy on ads. In the case of RIMM it's Blackberry 10, a new mobile platform based, like Google's Android, on Unix.

Facebook's rally is especially suspicious, since it started with the expiration of lock-ups on shares held by insiders, as CNN reported at the time. Many expected the stock to collapse on that date, but instead it has been rising steadily, and even the bearish BTIG Research analyst, Rich Greenfield, is now expecting big things, reports Business Insider .

How big? He expects revenue for the quarter of $1.55 billion, up from $1.26 billion last quarter, with total revenue for the year of $6 billion and EBITDA of $858 million for just the last three months.

Greenfield's turnaround gave an extra kick to the stock's rally, but Greenfield himself has only given the stock a "neutral" rating, because he doesn't expect the good news to continue. He says the mobile app is ad-heavy, not a very good experience, and suggests that Facebook is about to get unfriended by many people who use it.

I agree. Don't buy the hype that Facebook has "billions" of users because I'm one of them and I hardly go there anymore. I post stories to it through Tweetdeck, looking for readers, and there are a few family members I keep up with. But I don't "hang out" there.

In the end, social networking and open source have something important in common. It's the level of commitment that counts. Don't tell me how many people downloaded your open source project -- support payments and committers determine your worth. In social networking, moreover, word of mouse is all. It can disappear at a click.

RIMM's rise began with a reported loss that "wasn't as bad" as analysts thought. It has continued with reports on Blackberry 10, which is based on an embedded version of Unix called QNX. The company has been pushing it to developers, especially in Asia, Crackberry.com reports , and the hope is that it can retain at least a piece of the enterprise market the company once dominated.

Or look at it this way. About 400 million smartphones were sold in the last quarter alone. RIMM sold about 7 million of them. If this rises to just 10 million/quarter with the new software, that's organic growth. Add roughly $3/share in cash and $5/share for its patent portfolio -- although it recently lost a patent arbitration to Nokia ( NOK) on WiFi patents, FossPatents writes -- and it's selling at liquidation value.

Maybe. But I've been covering this business for 30 years now, and operating systems are a zero sum game. Maybe you can have two winners, for a time. But it's in the nature of the business that things consolidate pretty fast, we already have two good choices here, and even Microsoft ( MSFT), with all its advertising, is barely making a dent this Christmas.

Even with its recent gains Facebook is selling at a 33% discount to its IPO price. Even with its recent gains RIMM is about 33% below its level a year ago. So they're both selling hope, at Christmas, and we all want to believe, right?

What I believe is that Santa Claus doesn't live on Wall Street. When someone tries to sell you something based on hope, understand first that they're selling something.

At the time of publication, the author was long MSFT.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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