Blackberry 'buyout' was always a jokeNovember 4, 2013: 12:03 PM ET
Blackberry doesn't have a buyer, but it has proven that it can still tell a good story.
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
- Reuters: Cisco, Google, SAP discussing BlackBerry bids
- WSJ: Lenovo Approaches BlackBerry
- NY Times: Qualcomm and Cerberus Join a Bid for BlackBerry
- WSJ: BlackBerry Met With Facebook Last Week on Potential Bid
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?
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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