You should assume that a handful of publicly traded companies will go out of business in 2012. The obvious objective is to avoid owning shares in any of them. To help you do so, we'll take a look at two companies that are already arguably on the verge of collapse.
1. Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM )
Like a Xerox copy machine or a Kleenex tissue, RIM's "BlackBerry" was synonymous with the word "smartphone" until the mid-2007 debut of the iPhone. It controlled 60% of the market at the time, and its shareholders were rewarded handsomely. In two short years, its share price increased sevenfold, rocketing upward from approximately $20 per split-adjusted share in 2006 to more than $140 a share in 2008.
Unfortunately, time has not been kind to RIM or its shareholders. As my Foolish colleague Anders Bylund recently pointed out, shares of the BlackBerry maker fell by more than 75% in 2011 alone. And today they sit around $15, a staggering 90% below their 2008 high.
Its executives and board are under attack from both within the company and without. In July, the mobile blog Boy Genius Report published an openly critical letter from a high-level RIM executive and followed up with disgruntled insider missives from two lower-level employees. And as my colleague Evan Niu discussed in September, Jaguar Financial, a small Canadian merchant bank that holds a relatively small stake in RIM, published its own letter to the company, calling for a "value maximization process" and expressing its belief that a "transformational change" is necessary.
RIM's problems stem first and foremost from its perceived failure to innovate. Unlike Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) and Samsung, RIM was simply too slow to embrace the reality that smartphone users look to their devices for more than just emailing. Beyond that, investors continue to express their disdain for the company's shared CEO and chairman positions. Jaguar Financial, for instance, wants the company to find an immediate solution to the issue.
While it's impossible to predict the future, it's safe to say that RIM's won't be placid. The company's sales have languished in recent quarters and its cash reserves have been diminished. Investors seem to be calling for one if not two heads at the top of the company to roll. And competitors like Apple are all too happy to pick up where RIM has failed.
2. Eastman Kodak (NYSE: EK )
Kodak's story is that of the innovator's dilemma. Founded in 1892, the traditional camera and film maker was an iconic name in photography for more than a century. Despite inventing the digital camera in 1975, however, the company has since struggled to keep up with the digital age. And it now lags far behind competitors like Canon and Nikon.
One look at the financials reveals Kodak's dire position. The company's revenue has been sliced in half over the last five years, going from more than $13 billion in early 2006 to just over $6 billion for the trailing 12-month time period. Its cash and short-term investments have dwindled to only $900 million, down from $1.6 billion at the end of 2010 and over $2 billion at the close of 2009. It has more than $1.5 billion in debt compared to a market cap of only $175 million. And the last fiscal year it recorded positive net income was 2007.
Rumors of an impending bankruptcy reached a fever pitch when it was reported in September that Kodak retained the powerhouse law firm Jones Day, which specializes in Chapter 11 filings. Since then, however, the firm has been assigned to other duties while the services of a second firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, have been enlisted. While there may be a perfectly innocent explanation for these moves, there's speculation that Kodak balked when Jones Day advised that it file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. And this speculation was only further fueled when two of the company's board members resigned last month.
In an odd and slightly ironic twist of fate, Kodak hired a former Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) executive, Antonio Perez, to try to fend off its otherwise seemingly inevitable bankruptcy. Given HP's strength in printing, it's no surprise that Perez has pushed the company to embrace printers to secure its future in the digital age. As my colleague Austin Smith pointed out in a recent video, however, Kodak's strategy appears to be the exact opposite of what has worked for HP. Whereas the latter sells printers cheap and makes its margin on ink cartridge sales, Kodak is looking for profit from the former, an approach that Austin has little faith in.
Indeed, the only thing Kodak appears to have in its favor is its treasure chest of digital imaging patents. Although estimates vary, sources have discussed a price tag of nearly $3 billion, which is multiples higher than its current market cap. According to Fool Isaac Pino, the best-case scenario is that Kodak will pull off a sale similar to Nortel Networks' earlier in 2011, where companies like Apple and Microsoft (NYSE: MSFT ) snatched up the wireless company's networking patents for a total of $4.5 billion. Whether Apple or Microsoft would be interested in Kodak's patents remains to be seen, but unlike Nortel, Kodak intends to conduct this sale outside of bankruptcy court (an unlikely scenario, in Austin's opinion).
Foolish bottom line
While we embrace the contrarian approach here at The Motley Fool, I don't think it applies to companies like RIM and Kodak. My recommendation is to steer clear of these companies, and to look instead at companies that will protect and multiply your capital in years to come -- like the one discussed in our recently released free report, "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2011."To access this limited-time report while it's still available, click here now -- it's free.