Bangkok Post

BlackBerry buyout

Accepts Fairfax-led group’s $4.7bn offer


BlackBerry Ltd agrees to a probable $4.7 billion buyout by a consortium planning to take the struggling smartphone maker private.

OTTAWA: BlackBerry Ltd made a last roll of the dice on Monday and agreed to a probable $4.7 billion buyout by a consortium planning to take the struggling smartphone maker private.

The Ontario-based BlackBerry said it had signed a letter of intent with a group led by Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited, which has offered to acquire the company.

Fairfax, a Canadian firm headed by billionair­e Prem Watsa, is already BlackBerry’s largest shareholde­r with approximat­ely 10% of its shares.

He resigned from BlackBerry’s board in August when it announced a search for a suitor.

Watsa said the sale ‘‘will open an exciting new private chapter for BlackBerry, its customers, carriers and employees.’’

‘‘We can deliver immediate value to shareholde­rs while we continue the execution of a long-term strategy in a private company,’’ he added.

Under the proposed BlackBerry­Fairfax deal, the consortium would offer $9 for each outstandin­g share, and Fairfax would contribute its own shares in the transactio­n.

BlackBerry said its board supported the plan.

A firm deal, once due diligence is completed, is expected by November 4. It also hinges on the consortium obtaining financing.

BlackBerry said it would continue a search for a possibly better suitor in the interim.

While BlackBerry helped create a culture of mobile users glued to smartphone­s, many have since moved to iPhones or devices using Android software like Samsung Electronic­s Co Ltd’s Galaxy range.

According to Internatio­nal Data Corporatio­n, BlackBerry’s global market share had slipped to 3.7% in the second quarter, the lowest since tracking began. Android accounts for nearly 80%.

For Roger Kay at Endpoint Technologi­es Associates, BlackBerry grew complacent and was ‘‘blinded’’ to competitiv­e threats.

‘‘BlackBerry hung its hat on the physical keyboard, they believed that for people who do a lot of typing they need a keyboard,’’ he said.

‘‘By the time it got the touchscree­n it was too late. In this industry if you miss a couple of product cycles, you’re pretty much toast.’’

The company, formerly known as Research In Motion Ltd, unveiled a new corporate name and a new platform in January as it sought to regain momentum, but its most recent numbers suggest this has been a spectacula­r failure.

On Friday, the company announced it was laying off 4,500 staff — or onethird of its global workforce — after a dismal launch of new smartphone models earlier this year.

It predicted a nearly $1 billion secondquar­ter loss due to poor sales of its new Z10 touchscree­n smartphone, which was aimed at competing with Apple and Android’s flagships.

Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates and other analysts said going private — and possibly returning company founder Mike Lazaridis to the helm — would give the firm room to ‘‘put the house in order.’’

Going forward, BlackBerry would be a much smaller player in handheld devices, but Gold said ‘‘being private would mean Wall Street is not continuous­ly breathing down their neck.’’

Furthermor­e, its key enterprise customers may not feel compelled to replace their BlackBerry servers for fear that the company is going out of business.

‘‘It could provide them with cover to re-architect the company even more than they are now,’’ said Gold.

Boston University professor N. Venkat Venkatrama­n said the company could attract firms like IBM, HP or Dell if it focused on business communicat­ions not private consumers.

The company’s sustainabi­lity, however, would still remain in doubt.

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