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Worst Stock for 2008: Research In Motion

Resolve to keep your portfolio healthy: Help us pick the worst stock for 2008.

The BlackBerry, Research In Motion's (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) flagship product, is so addictive it's earned the nickname CrackBerry. I've seen people texting on their BlackBerries while driving, flying, and even at a funeral, so that nickname certainly seems to fit. With a key product that people simply can't stop using, you have to wonder: What exactly could be wrong enough with the company to have it in the running for the Worst Stock for 2008?

When roses lose their blooms
Unfortunately, there's plenty to worry about when it comes to the company's current state. Three big issues loom in its path, only one of which is anywhere close to being within the company's own sphere of influence. Currently staring Research In Motion in the face are problems related to:

  • Changing consumer tastes
  • Stretched valuation
  • General economic woes.

There are times when the light at the end of the tunnel really is an oncoming train. Considering these challenges, the big question isn't whether or not 2008 will be a tough year for Research In Motion, it's: How tough will 2008 be?

Tastes change
For instance, at one time, Motorola (NYSE: MOT  ) had some of the hottest phones on the market. That's almost a laughable thought these days. Even more recently, remember when everyone had to have a Palm (Nasdaq: PALM  ) phone? As the pioneer in smartphones, it was the company to beat.

Now, everyone is taking aim at Research In Motion and its BlackBerry. Last year's salvo by Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) with its iPhone looks more and more like the opening rounds of a long campaign for leadership in the next generation. The new Voyager being touted by Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) and LG seems to be the next contender aiming for dominance. It combines a touchscreen similar to the iPhone's with a full keyboard to rival the BlackBerry's. The battle has been joined on yet another front.

Product wars are costly
What are the chances that the current generation of BlackBerries will emerge from this assault unscathed? Frankly, somewhere between slim and none. Even if Research In Motion does successfully fight history and remain on top, it won't be easy or cheap to stay there. "Me, too"-style innovation rarely wins converts, and one-upmanship can get very expensive, very fast.

To raise the stakes even higher, Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) emerging open-source Android platform will only serve to lower the costs of entry into the fray. More competition might be great for consumers, but it makes things tougher for the entrenched leader that everyone is working to overtake.

Even worse, the need for constant spending on R&D just to keep up can turn a great business into a dreadful stock to own. In the face of such strong, technically savvy current and emerging competition, does Research In Motion really deserve a price-to-earnings ratio of around 50? Such a frothy multiple might make sense for a rapidly growing company with nothing but open space ahead of it, but not for the leader in a maturing, highly competitive industry.

As if that weren't bad enough
Finally, there's the fact that the economy seems to be taking a turn for the worse. When technology bellwether Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO  ) reported weakness in its core switching business last November, it was likely the first signal of worse things to come. After all, when companies start feeling the pinch of a tighter economy, among the first things to for managements to postpone are capital-hungry infrastructure upgrades.

If Cisco's woes are harbingers of problems to come, can a slowdown in the market for productivity-enhancement tools like smartphones be far behind?

With these headwinds blowing against it, I can't possibly see how 2008 will be anything less than a disaster for Research In Motion. If you agree, then join us for free at Motley Fool CAPS, and add your underperform rating alongside mine. If enough of us speak with one mind on its stock, CAPS will give Research In Motion the one-star basement rating it so greatly deserves. So join today and get rating!

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