Research In Motion (RIMM) reports their first-quarter earnings after the close today so fasten your seat belts and deploy your airbags. It should be brutal. But what if it's not? Yeah, that's right. I said it. What if RIM, getting slapped dumb in the smartphone phone war with Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG) while throwing themselves at the mercy of investment bankers at Morgan Stanley (MS), actually manages to exceed expectations?
I really didn't just ask that question, did I?
It's at least metaphysically possible … isn't it? Wall Street expects a loss of a penny a share, versus a profit of $1.33 in last year's first quarter. Ouch. Revenue is pegged at $3.1 billion, from a much more flush $4.9 last year. Double ouch.
Here's what you need to consider, though: expectations cannot be lower. All Things D ran a representative headline: "RIM Earnings Preview: `Terrible With a Scoop of Worse.'" That might be the most negative headline of all time.
Moreover, RIM has ceased all guidance. Long-term, this is worrisome. But short-term, it increases the chance for a surprise-a chance heightened by RIM's large but undefined and largely unknown campaign of cost cuts.
But this is what you need to do in the unlikely event of a beat: nothing. Considering the lack of communication on RIM's part and the pile-on nature of the low expectations from Wall Street and the media, any modest beat would merely be part of the expectation game. That's a small consolation.
In other words, unless RIM beats by a considerable measure (say, 5 cents or more) there is no reason to believe that RIM is in anything other than a fatally fractured state. A penny or two spread between expectations and reality does not amount to much, if anything, about the direction of RIM's business. You don't want to own a doomed company, just because the funeral date has been put off for a quarter or two.
Remember: there is a difference between beating expectations and returning to form. Even if RIM beats, they are a long way from decent form.