By Angela Moon
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Some investors are betting Research in Motion's stock is in for more pain, even after a rough three years.
Shares of the BlackBerry maker have lost more than 38 percent since February. Investor attempts to pick a bottom in the stock have been run over by a slide dating from June 2008, when it peaked at $148 a share.
Some in the options market don't see the trend arresting itself, making long-term bearish bets that RIM shares will fall to the mid-$30s by January 2012.
"There is a major divergence of opinion on the stock," said Bret Jensen, chief investment strategist at Simplified Asset Management, a hedge fund based in Miami, Florida.
"While some argue that it's somewhat like Apple before the big comeback, considering the cash flow and the attractive P/E ratio, others are asking, 'is this going to be the new Palm?'"
Palm was another high-flying maker of handheld computers, whose shares have since lost most of their value.
IM has been disappointing investors in recent months. Sales and earnings forecasts have been cut.
Its BlackBerry smartphone lineup has steadily lost market share, especially in the hyper-competitive U.S. market, to devices such as Apple's iPhone and those running Google's Android software.
Since early March, shares have struggled to hold above their 10-day moving average, seen as buffering against further losses. The stock fell 1.1 percent at $43.74 on Friday.
Short interest is currently at a five-month high at 6 percent of the outstanding float, according to Nasdaq.
But a Thomson Reuters StarMine analysis puts the stock's intrinsic value at $99.44, assuming a 10-year cumulative annual growth rate of 7.3 percent, lower than the industry average.
The stock's trajectory since February is ugly. Since hitting a 52-week high of $70.54, the pattern has been: Drop sharply, attempt a rebound, and get whacked again.
More disturbingly, volume has ticked up of late as the share slide has picked up speed.
For the stock to turn around, it would need to rally and sustain gains at what technical strategists call a "gap" in its price -- the sharp decline that occurred in late April from the mid-50s to the $40s.
"The bottom of that gap is at the $50 area, so the stock would need to rally sharply from current levels just to begin that process," said Bryant McCormick, an independent quantitative analyst at optionMonster.com.
THE BEARISH BUTTERFLY EFFECT
Earlier this week, RIM recalled some of its Playbook tablet computers due to an operating system flaw. The company had hoped the launch of the long-awaited tablet could revive its fortunes, but the product garnered poor reviews and complaints it had been rushed out before it was ready.
Due to the recall, RIM's Nasdaq-listed shares fell as low as $42.61, just 9 cents above an August 2010 trough.
On the same day, an options trader bought 3,500 puts at the January 2012 $40 strike for an average premium of $3.77 each, sold 7,000 puts at the January 2012 $37.5 strike at an average premium of $2.83, and picked up 3,500 puts at the January $35 strike for an average premium of $2.10 each.
The strategy, known as a bearish put butterfly spread, implies an average breakeven share price of $39.79 by expiration in January.
Maximum profits will be made if RIM shares plunge nearly 15 percent from the current price to settle at $37.50 at expiration, according to Caitlin Duffy, options analyst at Interactive Brokers Group.
A butterfly put spread involves a bet shares will fall, but only to a specific level. One profits by selling puts at a strike price that is between purchases at strike prices on each side, or the "wings" of the butterfly.
"Butterfly spreads on the stock suggest some options players expect RIM's losing streak to continue into next year," she said.
(Additional reporting by Doris Frankel in Chicago; Editing by Andrew Hay)