An offer to take BlackBerry private does not end the uncertainty surrounding the ailing smartphone maker.
BlackBerry said on Monday that it had signed a letter of intent from a group led by Fairfax Financial Holdings, a Canadian insurance and investment company, to pay shareholders $9 a share in cash, pending a variety of conditions, taking the company private.
The $4.7 billion offer from Fairfax, which already owns about 10 per cent of BlackBerry, is a powerful symbol of phone maker’s decline. In June, 2008, a time when BlackBerrys defined smartphones, the company had a stock market value of $83 billion.
Any deal is far from done. Fairfax did not identify the other investors in its consortium, which is seeking financing. And while the offer could flush out potential rival suitors, it is unclear who might be tempted to come forward, given the company’s uncertain prospects. Investors gave a muted endorsement Monday, with BlackBerry shares rising one per cent, to $8.82, but failing to reach the $9 bid price.
The offer came after the company announced on Friday that it expected to report a quarterly loss of nearly $1 billion, stemming largely from the failure of the BlackBerry 10 line of phones that were supposed to revive the company. BlackBerry also outlined plans to lay off about 40 per cent of its already reduced workforce, or around 4,500 people.
Sensing the opportunity to halt the fall in company’s stock, prompted by that announcement, and the potential to kick off an auction, BlackBerry’s board seized on the offer, quickly signing a letter of intent. V. Prem Watsa, Fairfax’s Chairman and Chief Executive, told shareholders in March that the company paid an average price of $17 for its BlackBerry shares, giving him an obvious interest in at least stalling the slide in BlackBerry’s shares.
Yet, not only are there questions about the offer, several analysts say it is not clear how the Fairfax group could stem BlackBerry’s rapid decline or stabilise the company.
Last week was essentially an announcement that they are leaving the handset business, said Jan Dawson, a telecommunications analyst with Ovum. But pick any market they’re trying to go into, and there are strong, entrenched competitors.
Given the high risk involved in investing in BlackBerry, one of the most pressing questions surrounding the deal is the identity of the investor who is prepared to invest in the company alongside Fairfax. Mike Lazaridis, the co-founder of BlackBerry who stepped down as co-chief executive in 2012, has been interested in making an offer with private equity investors, people familiar with the situation said. That led to speculation on Monday that he might join the Fairfax group.