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RIM target prices factor in white knight scenario

A salesman displays a Blackberry mobile phone to customers next to dummy handsets at a shop in Jammu
A salesman displays a Blackberry mobile phone to customers next to dummy handsets at a shop in Jammu

TORONTO (Reuters) - For most brokerages, the question is not whether to cut their price targets for Research In Motion but by how much.

Analysts who see the possibility of a white knight emerging for the struggling BlackBerry maker have favored a target higher than its current trading level of about $17 a share.

For those who see no end in sight for RIM's downward spiral, the target tends to be much lower, especially after Friday's damaging profit warning.

One of those in the latter camp is National Bank Financial, which already recommends avoiding the stock. On Tuesday it cut its target to $10 from $16 on the pessimistic view that a deep-pocketed savior will not step forward and RIM will not itself arrest declining market share, gross margin and earnings.

"We have little confidence that any management team could save RIM in its current form," analyst Kris Thompson said.

Others, such as CIBC and Paradigm Capital, have slashed but only to a point above RIM's current valuation. Many argue the Canadian company would make a viable strategic takeout target or a buyer could break it up and sell off in parts.

Most are using Friday's warning as a peg to redress their own misplaced optimism after the stock plunged 10 percent.

"Target changes are almost completely pointless. They usually indicate that an analyst is trying to play catch-up to what's happening to the ticker tape," independent analyst Chris Umiastowski wrote on his blog last month.

He can afford to be honest these days, after 10 years working in equity research, most recently for TD Newcrest.

"I've been there myself loads of times. It's no fun. It makes you feel like your report is a waste of paper," he said.

Most analysts with wilting views on RIM have suggested alternative routes the company could take that would make them reconsider, such as adopting Google's Android or Microsoft's platform and using its push capabilities to differentiate.

Wunderlich Securities cut its price target to $16 from $24, saying an improvement on that view would require a change of course such as adopting Google's Android, which analyst Matthew Robison admits would be more likely with a management change.

NBF's Thompson expects RIM to earn just $1.74 a share in the fiscal year starting in late March, down from $2.81 previously.

That's substantially lower than the $5.25 to $6 range that RIM on Friday said it did not expect to meet for the current year.

A price target is derived by multiplying expected earnings per share based on expected growth.

The stock has fallen from near $70 in February as RIM bleeds market share, especially in the United States, during a troubling transition to a fresh operating system.

NBF was already pointing to a price below RIM's dismal current price around $17, while others have had to tame much loftier expectations.

Paradigm Capital, whose buy recommendation expresses faith in RIM's ability to turn things around without a major shift in strategy, cut its price target to $40 from $50 in a Monday note.

CIBC cut to $25 from $55 but added a "speculative" qualifier to its "buy" recommendation due to poor visibility into RIM's future earnings. Analyst Todd Coupland also cited the value of RIM's network to an unnamed potential buyer in his valuation.

Goldman Sachs dropped its recommendation to sell RIM shares last month but still lowered its price target, to $18, reflecting in part a declining earnings trajectory. The investment bank now judges RIM using a sum-of-parts methodology that focuses on the value of a break-up.

(Reporting by Alastair Sharp)

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