BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIMM) shocked the market yesterday, sending shares down 20% after hours — now down 25% this morning in high-volume trading — when it said gross margins would decline next quarter and next year as the company invests to steal share in the rapidly growing smartphone market.
Not a stupid decision, but a risky one. Deutsche Bank downgraded RIM to “sell” and RBC to “sector perform” this morning, while Credit Suisse upgraded RIM to “neutral.”
The one note of the three we’ve seen today: RBC’s downgrade, in which analyst Mike Abramsky cuts RIM’s price target to $90 from $165. Why?
- Less visibility to recovering margins — RIM guided margins in the mid-40% range, while analysts were looking for something around 50%. Who knows when they’re going to go up again — if ever?
- Increased risks to RIM’s growth from the crappy economy.
The bottom line: It’s probably not a bad move for RIM as a company to invest in the “land grab” and grow its huge market share in the booming smartphone market. But as a stock, RIM is now riskier — especially if RIM has to fend off similar ‘land grabs’ from competitors like Apple, Google, Microsoft, or whomever.
Remember what happened to Motorola when it went after market share — instead of profit — by helping carriers cut the RAZR’s price tag to zero? Not good.
The big differences here: RIM’s model is part subscription-based; handset sales aren’t their only source or revenue, so subsidizing phones to get more email subscribers isn’t a total loss. And this is a platform play, not just a gadget play — so if RIM can take an early lead and hook people on the BlackBerry platform, it’s likely people will keep buying BlackBerries. Whereas previous RAZR owners really have no reason to buy another RAZR, unless they just want another cheap phone.
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