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Shares of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion rose 3 percent Thursday with Wells Fargo saying that better gross margins from the company's new phone will offset potentially limited demand.
THE SPARK: In a morning research note, analyst Maynard Um upgraded the shares to outperform. Um said the current valuation already discounts the potentially limited demand for RIM's new BlackBerry phone that was unveiled last week.
THE BIG PICTURE: RIM shares have more than doubled from nine-year lows in September on optimism and mostly favorable reviews off the new BlackBerry. The software has a fresh interface designed for touchscreens. The once pioneering smartphone has been overshadowed by the iPhone and Android phones in recent years.
THE ANALYSIS: UM said the outperform rating is predicated on the view that gross margins will improve with the release of the new much-delayed phones. He upgraded the valuation target to between $19 and $20, versus the prior range of $11-$13 under the previous analyst's call.
"While it may very well turn out that demand for BlackBerry 10 is limited, we believe the valuation already discounts some level of failure and think the risk/reward at this juncture of the BlackBerry 10 cycle is attractive," Um said.
BGC Financial analyst Colin Gillis said the stock has risen lately on optimism around the launch and mostly positive reviews, but cautioned it's not based on hard sales data.
"Some of the optimism may get tempered when they report," Gillis said in an interview.
Gillis said it's a big problem that a physical keyboard version might not arrive in the U.S. until May or June, a month or two behind other parts of the world. RIM chief executive Thorsten Heins told The Associated Press this week that the keyboard version will likely come out eight to 10 weeks after a carrier releases a model with only a touch screen, the BlackBerry Z10. The Z10 is expected in the U.S. in mid-March, so eight to 10 weeks brings the U.S. date for the BlackBerry Q10 to mid-May to early June.
"The big thing is the keyboard. That's a long time," said Gillis, who noted it will go up against a new phone from Google and maybe a new iPhone refresh. "People were expecting April."
Such a delay would further complicate RIM's efforts to hang on to customers tempted by Apple's trend-setting iPhone and a range of devices running Google's Android operating system. Even as the BlackBerry has fallen behind rivals in recent years, many BlackBerry users have stayed loyal so far specifically because they prefer a physical keyboard over the touch screen found on the iPhone and most Android devices. But the temptations to switch grow with each additional delay, despite favorable reviews for the new operating system.
SHARE ACTION: Research In Motion Ltd., based in Waterloo, Ontario, rose 57 cents, or 3.5 percent, to $16.62 in afternoon trading. Shares had risen to a 52-week high of $18.32 on Jan. 24 from a nine-year low of $6.22 on Sept. 24.