This Just In: Upgrades and Downgrades

At The Motley Fool, we poke plenty of fun at Wall Street analysts and their endless cycle of upgrades, downgrades, and "initiating coverage at neutral." So you might think we'd be the last people to give virtual ink to such "news." And we would be -- if that were all we were doing.

But in "This Just In," we don't simply tell you what the analysts said. We'll also show you whether they know what they're talking about. To help, we've enlisted Motley Fool CAPS, our tool for rating stocks and analysts alike. With CAPS, we track the long-term performance of Wall Street's best and brightest -- and its worst and sorriest, too.

Meet the Rodney Dangerfield of smartphones
Egads! First Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) eats its market share. Then Steve Jobs trashes its sales performance. Now, adding insult to injury and insult, it gets downgraded by Oppenheimer. Sometimes, it seems Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) just gets no respect ... but does it deserve any?

Oppenheimer pulled its "outperform" rating on RIM yesterday, and recanted its $58 price target on the shares to boot. The reason: Basically, Oppenheimer thinks RIM shares have benefitted overmuch from overheated takeover speculation -- speculation Oppenheimer thinks is a bunch of bunk. While a deal may be "a remote possibility," the analyst doubts anyone's going to be "splurging" on RIM anytime soon.

Worse, if a merger-and-acquisition scenario fails to emerge, Oppenheimer warns, competition from the likes of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) , Motorola (NYSE: MOT  ) , and Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) "is only getting tougher and while RIMM has made some improvements to its portfolio/OS, we don't believe it's enough to withstand the pressures in FY 2012." Oppenheimer may be right about that.

Let's go to the tape
After all, it's been right about a whole lot of communications equipment stocks in the past. Historically, Oppenheimer has maintained a market-whopping 58% accuracy rating on its recommendations over the past four years. Its recommendation to buy Israeli wireless backhaul operator Ceragon Networks was nothing short of inspired. It's picked Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM  ) , Corning (NYSE: GLW  ) and a whole slew of market outperformers, really:

Company

 

Oppenheimer Said

CAPS Rating
(out of 5)

Oppy's Picks Beating S&P by

Qualcomm Outperform **** 33 points
Ceragon Outperform ***** 216 points (picked twice)
Corning Outperform ***** 46 points (picked thrice)

So when Oppenheimer looks at the communications equipment market, and tells us it thinks RIM is standing on the brink of disaster, well, I wouldn't discount that warning entirely. Still, I think the pros outweigh the cons at Research In Motion, and here's why.

Valuation matters
Is Google gaining on Research In Motion? Is Apple eating its lunch? Certainly. And yet, RIM's not going away anytime soon. Last I heard, RIM still owned close to 40% of the smartphone operating system market. It has every chance to battle back against its rivals and -- call me an optimist, call me a Fool -- but I think the stock is priced to reward investors nicely if it succeeds.

At 11 times earnings, RIM on its face appears cheap relative to consensus growth estimates for the company, and in fact, it's even cheaper than this. The company's trailing free cash flow of $3 billion outpaces reported GAAP earnings by a good 10%, putting RIM's price-to-free cash flow ratio closer to 10 times. Plus, the company carries not a lick of debt on its balance sheet; to the contrary, it's overflowing with $1.5 billion in cash!

Foolish takeaway
Put it all together, and when I look at Research In Motion, I see an enterprise valued at barely 9.3 times its annual cash earnings, and expected to grow these earnings north of 13% per year over the next half-decade. That's a bargain by any measure.

My advice: Sometimes opportunity doesn't knock; sometimes it rings. Pick up the phone on RIM.

Fool contributor Rich Smith owns shares of Google. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 578 out of more than 170,000 members. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Google and Nokia are Motley Fool Inside Value choices. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Qualcomm.

True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community.


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