Awaiting BlackBerry's Next Move

 | Feb 02, 2013 | 9:00 AM EST
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On Wednesday, Research In Motion (RIMM) -- soon to be rebranded as BlackBerry (BBRY) -- finally unveiled its new smartphones, the Z10 and Q10.

Research In Motion has been a battleground stock for the last six months. On one side are most U.S. investors and casual mobile-phone critics, fans and commentators -- a big group. This group believes that BlackBerry is destined to be sold for scrap metal and that its stock is going to drop into the mid-to-low-single digits.

The BlackBerry bears believe that the new phones, although much better than the two-year-old BB7s, won't be good enough. They point to Palm and Nokia (NOK) as examples of companies whose phones got good reviews but were a bust with consumers. They say that BlackBerry missed the rapid shift to mobile and can't come back, pointing out that most tech companies that miss a big wave never reemerge.

The bears believed that the stock's run from $6 to $18 was irrational. They call BlackBerry fans a "cult." They believe the bulls are about to get their comeuppance now that the phone has been unveiled.

In the period leading up to the launch event, Research In Motion has lost some wind from its sails. The stock dropped from $18 to $14 in the first three days of this week. This confirms the bears' view of this issue, and they believe this down move is just the beginning.

They have pointed to some tech reviews that have named a few product deficiencies (short battery life, slower browsing despite rumors of the contrary) while ignoring the positive reviews.

From here on out, the bears believe the sales numbers will prove them right -- that the product isn't getting a large pickup. Bears expect that, when the results are reported in May and then June, the stock will plummet.

The short interest in the stock has been steadily ticking upward in the past six months, even as the stock has tripled. Bears are defiant in the face of these losses. They believe they are now finally at the point at which they'll be able to make money from their long-term bet.

The BlackBerry bulls, many of whom are Canadian and therefore might be subject to a hometown bias, see the sales numbers coming as their salvation. Prem Watsa has bought 20% of BlackBerry on this fervent belief that the new phones will make the company very profitable this year.

This group counters the bear view that the company will go out of business by pointing to the company's 20-year history of profitability, its rising cash balances in the last nine months and its large user base of 80 million subscribers.

If only one-quarter or one-third of those subscribers migrate to the new phone, BlackBerry will make a lot of money this year, and the analyst consensus is that the company will lose $0.50 a share.

The bulls also argue that Research In Motion did the right thing in not just becoming another Android maker. Because of the painful choice of going it alone, it's quite likely that BlackBerry can license its BB10 operating system to other phone makers this year.

They believe we'll see many announcements in the coming weeks about carriers buying the new phones -- that is, restocking. BlackBerry has more than 600 relationships with carriers, almost double the number that Apple (AAPL) has.

Furthermore, the company has 70,000 apps, and for most buyers or potential buyers, that will be plenty.

Bulls also aren't worried if no iOS or Android users drop their phones in favor of BlackBerry. Their thesis works even if just the diehards buy the new phones.

In Wednesday's announcement, the bears were given some help with the news that the new phones won't be released in the U.S. until March. This hurt the stock, but it's hard to see what other bad news might come in the next few weeks.

To me, it seems as though the company can continue to manage the flow of good news from here.

So I believe the stock will rise from here, befuddling the shorts. But the big test on who wins or loses this BlackBerry investment bet won't come until the June earnings report.

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