Taking BlackBerry private may make sense, but not a quick fix

Aug 11 2013, 09:12 IST
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A deal to take BlackBerry private could make sense from a financial standpoint, say private equity executives, though any such move won’t by itself make the smartphone company more competitive. (AP) A deal to take BlackBerry private could make sense from a financial standpoint, say private equity executives, though any such move won’t by itself make the smartphone company more competitive. (AP)
SummaryFirm still bleeding subscribers; unlikely to regain market share from iPhone, Android

A deal to take BlackBerry private could make sense from a financial standpoint, say private equity executives, though any such move won’t by itself make the smartphone company more competitive.

The numbers for a leveraged buyout could still work, these executives said, after a Reuters report that BlackBerry’s board was warming up to the possibility of going private as it fights to revive its fortunes.

The company’s new openness to a leveraged buyout follows six weeks in which BlackBerry shares have taken a pounding, as sales of its new line of smartphones have so far failed to live up to the expectations of some analysts. The company is still bleeding subscribers and it faces an uphill battle to regain market share from Apple’s iPhone and devices that run on Google’s Android operating system.

Even so, the company has a core stable cash flow element that could support debt for a leveraged buyout, say some senior private equity executives involved in the sector. The sources asked not to be identified because they were not authorised to speak publicly.

BlackBerry is currently worth about $5 billion, but many of its investors like Ross Healy, a portfolio manager with MacNicol & Associates, whose clients own BlackBerry shares, note that the company has more than $3 billion in cash alone.

“My own analysis tells me that the stock is worth an awful lot more than $5 billion,” said Healy.

While sources told Reuters that no deal is imminent and that BlackBerry had not launched an active sale process, its openness to going private signals a major shift in the thinking of its management.

BlackBerry declined to comment on the Reuters report that its management is open to the idea of going private.

A senior executive at a large Canadian pension fund that has worked closely with private equity players agreed that the math of a leveraged buyout could work, and that they and other funds in the country would consider getting involved in any such deal should it arise.

“In terms of the scale and the nature of the asset, if you are convinced that the value is there, there is no reason why PE wouldn't look at it,” the pension fund executive said. “If private equity can buy Dell, they can buy anything,” the executive said, referring to Silver Lake Partners and founder Michael Dell’s efforts to buy the struggling PC maker for $25 billion.

No panacea

To be sure, going private would not likely be a panacea for BlackBerry. Private equity executives and analysts contend there was no obvious way to restructure the company in the aftermath of any buyout.

One idea is to separate the handset business and focus on the company’s network and infrastructure, which is known for its security, said private equity executives who have looked at BlackBerry. But the executives said there are no obvious buyers for the company's handset business. In fact, a wide range of private equity firms as well as technology companies have looked at BlackBerry over the past two years as its once-dominant business went into a tailspin.

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