Blackberry ‘buyout’ was always a joke

Nov 04, 2013

FORTUNE -- Well, it looks like Blackberry (bbry) isn’t being acquired by Fairfax Financial. Or by Qualcomm. Or by Cerberus, SAP, Google, Lenovo, Facebook or my Aunt Carol. From what I can tell, they all were equally likely buyers for this generation’s version of Palm.

The Canadian company this morning announced that its $4.7 billion “agreement” with Fairfax is off, after the Canadian insurance conglomerate failed to line up financing.

In fact, the entire sale attempt is dead – with Blackberry instead tossing CEO Thorsten Heins and agreeing to sell US$1 billion in convertible notes to Fairfax ($250m) and other investors. The debentures have a 7-year term, 6% coupon and are convertible into common stock at a price of US$10 per share (28.7% premium to Friday’s closing price – although shares are tanking on the news).

The new interim CEO will be John Chen, the former Sybase CEO who had been serving as a senior advisor to private equity firm Silver Lake (which, for the record, went all-in for Dell but wouldn't touch Blackberry with a 10-foot keyboard).

To be sure, lots of struggling tech companies fail to get acquired. Even well-known ones. And, along the way, they often insist to reporters that there are interested suitors-- in a desperate plea for one last bout of attention. What was unusual with Blackberry, however, is how few reporters called the obvious bluff.  Just look at this sampling

In many of those cases, I called corporate development folks at the possible "buyer." Usually it went like this:

Me: Are you considering a Blackberry bid?

Them: No.

Me: Then what do you make of the reports?

Them: They asked us to look, so we took the meeting as a courtesy.

The key tell was how a new suitor was leaked each week, rather than the prior suitor becoming more serious. Not to mention the fact that Fairfax structured its initial "bid" without being required to pay a breakup fee.

I know that Blackberry acquisition stories generated lots of clicks, but at what point does editorial judgment overwhelm self-interest? If a deal ultimately happens, it will be for scrap. And that was always the case.

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