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    Sunday, April 29, 2012

    Reuter site - UPDATE 1-RIM turnaround could take up to 5 years, Watsa says

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    UPDATE 1-RIM turnaround could take up to 5 years, Watsa says

    Thu, Apr 26 16:24 PM EDT

    * Smartphone maker has fallen behind rivals

    * Hurdles in the road, but a good buy at current
    levels-Watsa

    * Fairfax CEO says stocks better than bonds over next decade

    * Shares rise 3.6 pct

    By Cameron French

    TORONTO, April 26 (Reuters) - Research in Motion Ltd
    may take up to five years to regain its stride after
    its recent stumbles, but the BlackBerry maker's stock is a good
    value at current levels, investor Prem Watsa said on Thursday.

    Speaking at the annual shareholder meeting of Fairfax
    Financial Holdings Ltd, the Canadian insurer he heads,
    Watsa said he believed RIM's recent troubles were mere hurdles
    for a company he called a "Canadian success story."

    "Is it going to turn around in three months, six months,
    nine months? No," Watsa told reporters after the meeting in
    Toronto. "But if you're looking four, five years ... We make
    investments over four or five years."

    RIM's once high-flying shares have dropped 70 percent during
    the past 12 months as it has bled market share to smartphone
    rivals such as Apple Inc while demand for its Playbook
    tablet device has floundered.

    RIM's Toronto-listed shares rose nearly 4 percent Thursday
    afternoon to C$13.90, likely helped by reports on a
    Blackbery-focused blog that RIM plans to announce its first
    BlackBerry 10 device in August for an October launch.

    RIM declined to comment on the report, citing its standard
    policy not to talk about rumors and speculation. The company
    said in late March the first BlackBerry 10 device remained on
    track for a launch in the latter part of the year.

    VALUE INVESTOR

    Watsa, a value investor whose approach and acumen is
    sometimes compared to Warren Buffett's, joined RIM's board in
    January as part of a front-office shuffle in which Thorsten
    Heins replaced longtime co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike
    Lazaridis.

    Watsa also boosted Fairfax's stake in RIM to 5.1 percent at
    the time, making it one of the company's largest shareholders.

    Asked what he saw in the struggling company, Watsa pointed
    to his close friendship and admiration for Lazaridis, who
    remains on the company's board, and suggested shareholders have
    been to quick to give up on the company.

    "Mike Lazaridis is a technical genius. Some of you might
    forget that this is a company in Canada that invented the
    (mobile) email service that we all use. It's not like Apple
    wasn't there, and Google wasn't there," he said,
    stressing that he was speaking as an investor, rather than as a
    board member.

    Once the dominant player in the smartphone sector, RIM's
    Blackberry has withered from competition from Apple's iPhone and
    Google's Android system, prompting Lazaridis and Balsillie, the
    men who had engineered RIM"s rise, to step down in favor of
    former Siemens executive Heins.

    More recently, RIM has hired lawyers to work out a
    restructuring plan that could include selling assets, seeking
    joint ventures or licensing patents, according to people briefed
    on the matter.

    Watsa would not comment on how RIM should move forward,
    stressing that his investment was based primarily on his belief
    the stock was undervalued.

    "The stock price is down 90 percent (from its all-time high
    in 2008). That overrides everything else," he said.

    "People think that ... when things are going down it's over,
    and when things are going up, it will never stop. The reality is
    it's different," he said, noting the company's strong cash
    position and lack of long-term debt.

    "But there's no guarantees," he said.

    GOOD MACRO CALLS

    Watsa has built a reputation as a shrewd investor by
    correctly calling major market disruptions like the 2008 and
    1987 stock market crashes, and making billions for Fairfax as a
    result.

    Speaking at the meeting, he said he would maintain the
    company's hedges on its equity holdings, as he believed the
    equity market would retrench over the next few years.\

    Further out, however, he said the days of bonds
    outperforming stocks were likely over.

    "If you take a 10-year view, stocks are going to be a
    terrific place," he said. "For us, caution is the best way
    forward."

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