Blackberry Maker RIM Plunges; Activist Investor Calls For Sale, Directors Purge

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By David Zielenziger | June 29, 2012 11:13 PM EST

As shares of BlackBerry developer Research in Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM) fell nearly 20 percent Friday after announcing a first-quarter loss of $518 million and a further delay in shipping the next-generation BlackBerry 10, an activist shareholder demanded its CEO be fired.

Shares opened down $1.21, or 13 percent, at $7.92, and fell as low as $7.34, before closing at $7.39, down $1.34 or 19 percent, further lowering the value of the Waterloo, Ontario company from $4.7 billion at Thursday's close.

The value of RIM plunged to only $3.85 billion, a 75 percent loss from a year ago.

The first hour of trading alone wiped more than $860 million in RIM's market capitalization.

The plunge prompted activist investor Victor Alboini to renew his calls for an immediate sale of the company, which should come after new CEO Thorsten Heins is fired and half of the directors quit.

"The company is in a desperate situation," Alboini, whose Toronto-based Jaguar Financial owns slightly less than 5 percent of RIM, said Friday afternoon. "The directors now have a moral responsibility to act."

Alboini demanded the resignation of the directors now, before the July 10 annual meeting, as well as recruitment of an outsider to take the reins of RIM. Heins, 54, was promoted only last January, when co-founders Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie were ousted.

The company also promoted director Barbara Stymiest, a former banker with Royal Bank of Canada (NYSE: RY), to chairman. Alboini said he respects Stymiest, who'd been a director since 2007.

Save for Heins, all of RIM's directors are holdovers from the Lazaridis-Balsillie period.

Analysts slashed their price targets and one, Shaw Wu of Sterne Agee, wondered if RIM might have to file for bankruptcy. The company reported first-quarter revenue for the period ended June 2 plunged 43 percent to only $2.3 billion. A year ago, net income was $695 million.

UBS analyst Amitabh Passi trimmed his target price to $10.50 from $11.50, maintaning a "neutral" rating but was skeptical about its survival prospects. "We are increasingly of the belief that RIM is likely worth more broken up than as a going concern," he said.

Peter Misek of Jefferies halved his price target to only $5, said he was distrubed by the :huge product pothole" struck by the company by its failure to get the new smartphone out in time. Previously, he said, there were indications software problems had been ironed out but that's clearly not the case.

Heins said Thursday night the company has 78 million subscribers, more than $2.2 billion in cash and is being advised by investment bankers from JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) and Royal Bank of Canada on a course that could include a sale.

Passi of UBS said he was especially disheartened that Heins didn't shed any light on alternatives presented by the financial adviders.

Jaguar's Alboini said he didn't understand that either. He's lobbied for a sale of the company, perhaps splitting its handset business from the BlackBerry enterprise software side. As well, he said he was mystified by the total reliance on the new BlackBerry to the exclusion of other products.

"Why did they put all their eggs in one basket?" Alboini asked.

Alboini also said RIM's patent portfolio, bolstered by its participation in a syndicate that paid more than $4.5 billion for patents from Nortel Networks a year ago, might fetch billions.

During the investor call, CEO Heins declined to comment on a report that RIM had been approached by Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), the world's biggest software company, about scrapping its proprietary OS in favor of the new Windows 8 scheduled for delivery in the second half.

"We see a lot of competitors ahead," said Heins.

RIM plans to fire 5,000 employees, just under a third of its payroll, in a bid to get the BlackBerry 10 shipped in early 2013.

Heins and new chairman Stymiest face their shareholders July 10 at the annual shareholder meeting. That could be a stormy session if Alboini and other activist shareholders such as Omega Advisers' Leon Cooperman ask questions. Alboini, though, said he wasn't sure he'd even show up at what he said was likely "a very formal setting."

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