Fairfax consortium bids $4.7 billion to take BlackBerry private

Tue Sep 24, 2013 11:00am EDT
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By Alastair Sharp and Andrea Hopkins

TORONTO (Reuters) - Smartphone maker BlackBerry has agreed to go private in a $4.7 billion deal led by its biggest shareholder, allowing the on-the-go email pioneer to regroup away from public scrutiny after years of falling fortunes and slumping market share.

The $9 a share tentative offer, from a consortium led by property and casualty insurer Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd, will set a floor for any counteroffers that might emerge for Blackberry, which has been on the block since August.

As an investor, Fairfax Chief Executive Prem Watsa is often described as the Canadian Warren Buffett because he also takes the long view.

Blackberry shares peaked above $148 in June 2008 when the company's devices were still the top choice for bankers, politicians and lawyers.

The stock, halted pending the announcement on Monday, closed below the offer price on Nasdaq, at $8.82, indicating the market's lack of faith that other bids would emerge.

"I would think a competing buyout offer is quite unlikely," said Elvis Picardo, strategist at Global Securities in Vancouver. "The miniscule premium, and the muted market reaction, is another indication that the market views the odds of a competing bid as slim."

BlackBerry, based in Waterloo, Ontario, once dominated the market for secure on-your-hip email. But it introduced consumer-friendly touchscreen smartphones only after it lost the lead to Apple Inc's iPhone and devices using Google Inc's Android operating system.

BlackBerry has until November 4 to seek superior offers, which the Fairfax group has the right to match. The group is seeking financing from Bank of America Merrill Lynch and BMO Capital Markets to complete the deal and has until that November 4 deadline to conduct its due diligence.   Continued...

A man walks by a Blackberry sign at the Blackberry campus in Waterloo, September 23, 2013. REUTERS/Mark Blinch