BlackBerry calls off sale, spurring doubts and stock plunge

Mon Nov 4, 2013 9:07pm EST
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By Euan Rocha, Allison Martell and Greg Roumeliotis

TORONTO/NEW YORK (Reuters) - BlackBerry Ltd abandoned on Monday its plan to sell itself and said its CEO is stepping down, sparking a 16 percent dive in its share price and raising fears the struggling smartphone maker is running out of options.

After a two-month review of strategic options and talks with potential buyers that included Facebook, Lenovo and private equity firms such as Cerberus Capital Management LP, BlackBerry said it will abandon a sale. Instead, it will raise $1 billion by issuing convertible notes to a group of long-term investors including its largest shareholder, Fairfax Financial Holdings.

The only formal offer to buy BlackBerry - a tentative one - had come from Fairfax, which wanted to take the company private for $4.7 billion. But sources said Fairfax boss Prem Watsa had trouble financing the deal. Fairfax will now end up with $250 million of the debt offering.

"BlackBerry is hemorrhaging employees, it is hemorrhaging customers. The only thing that's growing is doubt," said John Stephenson, a senior vice president at First Asset Investment Management and one of BlackBerry's disgruntled investors.

"You can argue that it's an OK day for Fairfax and Prem Watsa, but it's a miserable day for Canada. It's a miserable day for BlackBerry investors and BlackBerry employees," said Stephenson.

BlackBerry founders Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin had partnered with Cerberus and mobile chip giant Qualcomm to consider a bid for BlackBerry. Only this weekend they had sent a letter to BlackBerry expressing their interest and asking for more time to finalize a bid, according to people familiar with the matter.

The consortium, which was backed by Goldman Sachs Group Inc, was confident it could secure the necessary financing but found BlackBerry uncooperative in providing key information, including information on its government contracts and intellectual property portfolio, the people said, asking not to be identified as the negotiations were private.

"BlackBerry is confident that it has run a robust strategic alternatives review process. The board believes that the deal outlined today was the best proposal, and in the best interest of its shareholders," said a spokesman for BlackBerry.   Continued...

A Blackberry smartphone is displayed in this August 12, 2010 illustrative photo taken in Hong Kong. REUTERS/Bobby Yip