Private equity firms are mostly interested in businesses such as BlackBerry's operating system and the patents around its keyboard, two of the sources said. However, one possibility is for a Canadian pension fund to team up with an investor to buy the whole company, which is currently worth a little more than $5 billion, one of the sources said.
BlackBerry's biggest shareholder, Fairfax Financial Holdings, has approached several large Canadian investment funds about forging a deal to take the smartphone maker private, Reuters reported last week.
Fairfax has a 10% stake, and its chairman and chief executive, Prem Watsa, has left BlackBerry's board already to avoid any possible conflict of interest as the company assesses its strategic options. Nevertheless, in recent days a few private equity firms have signed confidentiality agreements or have agreed to meetings with the company to gain access to the company's books, the sources said, adding that the sale process was expected to start in a few weeks. BlackBerry declined to comment.
The apparent lack of interest among private equity firms in the whole company underscores the challenges BlackBerry has been facing in competing with rivals such as Apple's iPhone and devices using Google's Android technology. Its new BlackBerry devices hit store shelves this year just as the high-end smartphone segment was showing signs of saturation in markets such as the US. Samsung Electronics recently reported results that fell shy of expectations, while Apple earlier this year reported its first quarterly profit decline in more than a decade.
The new BlackBerry device has so far failed to gain traction with consumers, and the company which pioneered mobile email with its first smartphones and email pagers and was once a stock market darling has seen its shares plummet. Its market value has fallen to $5.4 billion, from $84 billion at its peak in 2008. Last month, the company said it was weighing its options, which could include an outright sale, after Reuters first reported that company's board was warming up to the possibility of going private.
Industry sources said several of the biggest private equity firms and some of the Asian hardware makers had decided against a deal for the company. Still, the sources added some BlackBerry's assets could be of interest to buyers. According to analysts, BlackBerry's assets include a shrinking services business that powers its security-focused messaging system, worth $3 billion to $4.5 billion; a collection of patents worth $2 billion to $3 billion; and $3.1 billion in cash and investments.