Research In Motion (NYSE:BB) shares are moving higher today after a notable analyst upgrade.
Goldman Sachs analyst Simona Jankowski upgraded shares of the smartphone pioneer from neutral to buy, pushing the firm's price target on RIM from $9 to $16.
It's easy to argue that Goldman Sachs is late to the party. Since bottoming out at $6.22 two months ago, the stock has nearly doubled. Why wait this long? It's not as if there was ever any doubt that BB10 wouldn't be out early next year. It's not as if investors haven't known about the bar-raising features for months.
And -- to be fair -- it's not as if even Jankowski feels the rollout early next year of BlackBerry 10 will likely be a hit. She actually argues that there's only a 30% chance in BB10 succeeding, and that's already accounting for the wireless carrier support for the platform and the initial positive buzz that the operating system update is getting.
RIM is a gamble, but the payout if that 3-in-10 wager pays off can be huge. If BB10 is a hit, she feels that the company could earn as much as $3.08 a share. At 10 times earnings we'd be looking at the stock nearly tripling past $30 at this point, and that multiple may be conservative.
If -- and that's a big if -- BB10 makes RIM a force again, why wouldn't the company be worthy of a profit multiple in the mid-teens like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) or Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL)? After all, success would mean that it's not just Apple's iOS and Google's Android cornering the market. Why stop at $31? RIM would likely be trading closer to $40 if Jankowski's upside forecast is on target. Then again, why stop there? If BB10 is a hit, it will mean that Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone 8 was not -- and that Mr. Softy will be paying $50 a share or more for RIM to make sure that it's a force in the "good enough" computing revolution that will be continuing to crush its PC software business.
If -- and that's a small if -- BB10 flops, the stock will naturally crater back into the single digits.
The losses that analysts are already forecasting for this year will widen. The $2.3 billion -- or more than $4 a share -- in cash that RIM has on its balance sheet will shrink. The intellectual property won't be worthless, but it will degrade over time.
If BB10 is a flop, it doesn't mean that Microsoft's Windows Phone will be a hit. It will likely mean that Apple and Google have continued to corner the market with little room for a bronze medalist. Microsoft won't rescue RIM if it's a loser, even at $5 a share. It would already have its own homegrown clunker.
However, there comes a point where Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) would be a potential suitor for RIM. It is HP -- and not Microsoft -- that's hurting the most as consumers move away from clunky desktops, laptops, and printers. It's HP that overpaid for Palm. It's HP that got allegedly bamboozled by Autonomy.
Despite taking its lumps, HP is arrogant enough to think that it could take BlackBerry and turn it around by marketing it to its enterprise customers.
So, the downside isn't zero. The bottom for RIM comes down to how much HP would be willing to pay for a broken company if BB10 is a failure.
Feast or famine for RIM
It's easy to write RIM off after seeing its slice of the smartphone market cut in half over the past year.
The company isn't selling as many smartphones as it used to, and revenue is fading fast. However, the company still closed out its latest quarter with roughly 80 million global subscribers. The popular theory is that many of those BlackBerry users will simply move on to Android devices or iPhones as their contracts run out, but many will give BB10 a shot.
Existing Android and iPhone owners aren't likely to switch to RIM, and that's a problem that's also dogging Microsoft at this point. However, the vast majority of the world is still using traditional feature phones, if they have mobile phones at all. There's always a shot to go after them before they fall into the creature comforts of the iOS or Android ecosystems.
So Goldman Sachs isn't necessarily crazy here. Sure, the optimism would've been more lucrative two months ago when the stock was selling for the price of a burger, but it doesn't make it a bad bet here.
Yes, it's a bet. It's a risky bet. RIM won't be in the pre-teens by this time next year. It will be south of $5 if BB10 is a dud. It will be north of $20 if BB10 is a hit. There is no middle ground.
It's time to take a stand as an investor.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Aristotle Munarriz has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Apple, Google, Goldman Sachs, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.