Another Downgrade for Research In Motion Despite PlayBook Possibilities

| About: BlackBerry Ltd. (BBRY)

By Angus Robertson

Research in Motion’s (RIMM) PlayBook tablet device may be doing better than skeptics expected, but it still may not be enough to offset the erosion of the BlackBerry user base.

That seems to be the conclusion of Wunderlich Securities analyst Matthew Robison, who recently downgraded RIMM to Hold from Buy and cut his price target to $46 from $76.

Barron’s Tech Trader Daily reports that new BlackBerry products in late summer will sell well among the faithful, according to Robison, but “for new smart phone customers in the U.S. the BlackBerry brand continues to fade.”

“On the positive side, we believe the PlayBook continues to sell well relative to tablets other than the iPad, with minimal returns,” he writes, according to Forbes. “However, shipment rates have waned since initial volume from those that had been waiting for it. There is little indication that the PlayBook has registered with consumers outside the loyal BlackBerry installed base.”

ThinkEquity’s Mark McKechnie last week initiated coverage of RIMM with a Hold rating and a $48 target. Barron’s says McKechnie thinks there will be a two-horse race between Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android, but he’s not altogether giving up on RIMM’s “PlayBook” tablet because of its support for Adobe’s (NASDAQ:ADBE) “Flash” media technology, which could prove appealing to some corporate users: “We do see a market, particularly in the corporate space, which requires Flash support and thus gives RIMM an opening, in our view.”

International Business Times notes that Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), one of the big-box retailers to carry the PlayBook, defends RIMM and the tablet. “We set high expectations for the PlayBook and to date, we have far exceeded those expectations and we’re finding that customers are even more interested in purchasing once they’ve tested the PlayBook in the store,” the retailer said in a statement.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Mike Abramsky recently released research saying RIMM sold 250,000 Playbooks in the first month since its release. Abramsky said the company was on pace to sell 500,000 by the end of the first quarter. While this would be less than Abramsky’s original prediction of four million, it would a lot better than Samsung’s (OTC:SSNLF) Galaxy Tab or Motorola’s (NYSE:MMI) Xoom.

As The Wall Street Journal notes, a crumb of encouragement came last week from Bernstein Research, which upgraded RIMM to Market Perform, offering the lukewarm headline “Things Can’t Get Worse in the Foreseeable Future.”

The Globe and Mail notes that RIMM’s slide has spurred speculation of a stock buyback, but Alexander Peterc of Exane BNP Paribas says that while “on paper a buyback makes sense,” he believes RIMM would do better with acquisitions in the smart phone software and services area to boost its consumer offering. “I am not sure whether buybacks would actually lift its stock valuation significantly,” he adds, saying RIMM’s smart phone market share, sales mix, new devices and operating system transition are more important drivers of valuation than the use of excess cash.

Sameet Kanade of Northern Securities says RIMM may need to adopt “an aggressive acquisition strategy” toward consumer software. “Maintenance of an aggressive buyback program may indicate further shortfalls at RIMM, in our opinion.”

RIMM closed down almost 1% yesterday at $43.11, close to the bottom of its 52-week range of $42.53 – $70.54.