Tech is an industry full of dynamic success and massive failure. Companies are going from start-ups to billion dollar enterprises faster than ever such as Groupon (NASDAQ:GRPN). But one of the caveats with being in such a dynamic time, is they can fall just as hard. Nokia (NYSE:NOK) and Research In Motion (RIMM) are two such companies that have descended on less than good times. For these companies, missing product cycles and trends has set them on a decisive downward drift over the past year or more.
While still the largest producer in volume of cell phones, NOK missed the first smartphone boat and has since then found itself sinking as it struggles to climb aboard. RIMM on the other hand, was at one time one of the biggest smartphone makers and was driving the boat, however it failed to respond fast enough when the smartphone market shifted from corporate to consumer use and has since suffered dramatically and been tossed overboard. Now they both present opportunity as they try to reclaim lost market share.
NOK is still the largest cell phone producer in the world by volume according to Gartner's latest numbers. And last year they partnered with Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) to commence a plan to enter the smartphone market and get out of the doghouse. Since then they have slowly but surely been shipping their new smartphones, which received good initial reviews and have slowly been gaining traction. They continue to innovate, even creating a 40-megapixel camera-phone, which was panned as being excessive and impractical. It is far better to be too innovative in the tech industry than the reverse, but still "too" anything can be injurious.
Over the next year it will continue trying to grab its share of the smartphone market along with the help of MSFT, which is providing the OS. Looking forward we can expect to see NOK attack both the consumer and corporate markets, perhaps seeing the corporate market gain the most traction as the Windows based phones pair nicely with their existing corporate software. Moreover NOK has a relatively strong balance sheet, but has taken losses of late, and its market capitalization shows it.
Over the past year its shares have sunk nearly by half from a high of $9.42 to a low of $4.46. If NOK can gain traction in the smartphone market, and the windows OS begins to go mainstream, they could be poised for a great deal of re-growth in the coming year. It appears to have competent and realistic management, and investors may have already begun to take notice, as its shares have climbed from a low of $4.51 to a high of $5.80 in the last three months.
RIMM is in the doghouse, much more substantially than NOK. It failed to recognize its misdirection until very late, and is still struggling to regain lost mainstream market share while at the same time increasing its share in new markets. Last quarter, 58% of its revenue came from outside the U.S., U.K., and Canada. Over the past year its high and lows have ranged from $64.63-$12.45 respectively. Of late is has been hovering in the mid-teens.
With dismal earnings expectations on the horizon, a new line of unproven phones to be released, and a new operating system, the coming months will be pivotal. This year we can expect its pending Hail Mary's to either be well received or dubbed as the straw that broke the camel's back. As such, we should expect to see RIMM either rebound dramatically or cease to exist as we know it and be forced to scale down its hardware business, entertain suitors (of which rumors have been rampant, most recently responsible for a 7% move last week), or go some other yet to be seen route.
Currently, only 1 out of 47 analysts consider RIMM a "buy." While it has a relatively strong balance sheet, and has notably not actually had a losing quarter, it has a lot to prove. Last year it took a $500 million write-down on a tablet failure, and it may not be able to endure that type of flop again. But its stock price is currently trading below book value, and consequently it has also has a lot of potential for re-growth in the coming years. Brave investors with a high risk-tolerance see it as having potential to return significant, relatively short-term gains. The most optimistic look for a rebound equal to or greater than the declines over the past year.
Both underdogs should look to toward Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) for inspiration in many ways. It obviously dominates the industry in tablet sales and smartphone margins, and has routinely produced the products to beat. In addition, AAPL tends to under-promise and over-deliver, which often pleasantly surprises investors and has been reflecting nicely in its stock price. However NOK and RIMM cannot operate exactly like AAPL. They do not have the $100 billion war chest AAPL has accumulated. While AAPL has recently announced plans for a dividend and buyback, RIMM and NOK do not have the same luxury with roughly $1 billion and $12 billion in cash respectively.
Potential investors should keep careful tabs on cash balances, particularly with RIMM, as neither has the buffer that APPL currently enjoys, and as such there is little room for failure. As is often the case in tech, while there is considerable risk with both underdogs, they are both poised for big growth in the next year if they can execute as planned. Investors looking for high-risk high-reward positions should look toward NOK in the coming year. For those with even higher risk tolerance and eyes for value, RIMM presents just that.
Disclosure: I am short RIMM.