Is This Upgrade a Good Sign for BlackBerry?

Shares of the struggling smartphone manufacturer BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) have been on a volatile ride these past few months. Ahead of the launch of its make-or-break BlackBerry 10 operating system and new phone designs, shares of the company formerly known as Research In Motion were up 16 percent since the beginning of the new year; they dropped 26 percent immediately after the underwhelming product launch; and they rose 15 percent on the first day the company traded under its new moniker.

Now, the stock is up slightly more than 2 percent. It jumped to $16.44 just after the markets opened this morning, more than four dollars above its price entering 2013, after news of an analyst upgrade and two new additions to the company’s board reached investors.

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Wells Fargo analyst Maynard Um lifted his rating on BlackBerry from Market Perform to Outperform and increased his price target from $11-$13 to $19-$20.

His review of the company’s future prospects was fairly realistic, despite the upgrade. He recognized the problems that the company faces after releasing its first new device in more than 18 months to a market choked with offerings from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Samsung (SSNLF.PK), and Nokia (NYSE:NOK). “Lack of business model transparency,” “business model transitions,” and “competition” were problems he cited in his Thursday research note. He also acknowledged that demand for BlackBerry’s Z10 and Q10 devices may be limited…
But despite these negatives, Um said the firm believed that the company’s valuation “already discounts some level of failure” and thought that “the risk/reward at this juncture of the BlackBerry 10 cycle [was] attractive.”

BlackBerry’s upgrade to Outperform, the equivalent to a Buy rating, was “predicated on the view that gross margin will improve as the mix of BB10 devices ramps and the existing BB7 portfolio (negative gross margin) declines,” he added.

This rating joins a Sector Perform rating held by RBC Capital, a Sell rating by Canaccord Genuity, an Underperform rating by Pacific Crest, and one other Outperform rating by Sanford C. Bernstein.

Wells Fargo’s upgrade came alongside BlackBerry’s management change announcement. Two new directors were added to the company’s board on Thursday — retired Executive Vice President of Verizon (NYSE:VZ) Richard Lynch and Bert Nordberg, the former Chief Executive Officer of Sony’s (NYSE:SNE) Ericsson Mobile Communications.

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