BlackBerry said it had signed a “letter of intent” for a $4.7 billion sale to a group led by Fairfax Financial, although it has the option to shop around for better deals in the meantime.
The parties intend to “negotiate and execute a definitive transaction agreement” by 4 November 2013. However, in the meantime BlackBerry is “permitted to actively solicit, receive, evaluate and potentially enter into negotiations with parties that offer alternative proposals”.
In a statement, Barbara Stymiest, chair of the BlackBerry board, said: “The Special Committee is seeking the best available outcome for the Company’s constituents, including for shareholders. Importantly, the go-shop process provides an opportunity to determine if there are alternatives superior to the present proposal from the Fairfax consortium.”
The Fairfax deal would see BlackBerry taken private, which will enable it to continue without being under the constant scrutiny of investors and financial analysts.
But it will not mean the end of the company’s woes: Fairfax and its partners will be looking at how to make a profit from the investment, and the fact that BlackBerry is struggling to re-assert its relevance in the current mobile environment will not change because of its new parent.
Late last week, the company announced it is facing a $1 billion loss for the quarter to the end of August 2013, as it has struggled to attract buyers for devices powered by its new BlackBerry 10 platform, specifically the BlackBerry Z10.
With sales having tanked, it has announced plans to cut 40 per cent of its staff and focus on serving enterprise and prosumer customers.
Earlier this year, BlackBerry formed a special committee to review its strategic options, the second time it did so in 18 months.
With the company having been open to talks for some time, it is not immediately clear why it will be able to find an alternative offer in the next six weeks which has not been available before.
The Fairfax consortium deal has, however, provided an acceptable ballpark valuation for BlackBerry as a whole, although it seems more likely that other buyers will be interested in parts of the business rather than the whole.
Previous reports have suggested that buyers see value in some activities, such as BlackBerry’s patent portfolio, enterprise mobility management products, and BBM social messaging service, but with its handset business providing a drag.
Fairfax currently holds 10 per cent of BlackBerry, which it will contribute into the transaction. The consortium is seeking financing from BofA Merrill Lynch and BMO Capital Markets.