Why Research in Motion Is a Takeover Target

 |  Includes: AAPL, BBRY, EDS, HPQ, MSFT
by: Streetwise Blog

By Andrew Willis

Research In Motion (RIMM) rumors are something of a cottage industry. From trading desks to tech blogs, everyone has a theory on what's next for the BlackBerry maker.

At the moment, stock market chatter around Research In Motion puts the company in one of its vulnerable periods - to the extent a national champion with a $38.5 billion market cap can be considered vulnerable to a takeover. Specifically, there's talk on trading desks that with RIM shares changing hands at a relatively modest 15 times its forecast earnings, and half the levels seen in 2008, big dogs such as Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) are sniffing around.

There is nothing new in this line of speculation - for years, analysts and money managers have been debating the logic of various partners for Research in Motion.

There's also nothing right now to suggest talks are actually taking place between RIM and a potential suitor. Steve Ballmer hasn't been seen skulking about Waterloo, and even if he was, it wouldn't mean much, as the Microsoft CEO is a frequent visitor to Canada's top tech university, just down the road from RIM's head office.

However, there is a great deal of noise. So without further ado, here are a few reasons folks on the Street see Canada's largest tech company as a tempting target.

First and foremost, RIM occupies an enviable place at the top of the smart phone food chain. Any competitor that dreams of challenging Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone for domination of the lucrative handheld market would see the BlackBerry as the logical way into the fray. And we know how Microsoft loves to mix it up with Apple.

Then there's the wave of consolidation that's playing out in tech. As markets recover, it's game on for mega-deals in this sector. A site called TheDeal.com noted earlier this week that when Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) recently dropped $13.9 billion (U.S.) to buy Electronic Data Systems (NASDAQ:EDS), it inherited a RIM relationship. That newly-forged link means HP also gets mentioned as a potential suitor.

Within RIM, there's always been a well-developed streak of independence: co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie have built a world-beating franchise in the face of continual skepticism.

But both executives are now reaching that stage in executive life when legacy and outside interests can take priority over building the next BlackBerry. As you may have heard, Mr. Balsillie has a passing interest in pro hockey. And Mr. Lazaridis has put $150 million (Canadian) of his dough into no less a challenge than figuring out the origins of the universe, backing Waterloo's Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.

For this pair, and the RIM board, cashing out may hold an attraction now that never existed in the past. Despite their dominant personalities within RIM, neither executive holds anything close to control: The pair are RIM's largest shareholders, but each owns less than 6% of the equity.

Will RIM get taken out during this vulnerable phase? Or is the recent dip in this stock just another pause, before a new generation of smart phones sends the company's valuation soaring again? That, folks, is one of the hottest topics of conversation on the Street.