BLACKBERRY Ltd.'s withering smartphone business means potential acquirers will pick over its more alluring assets, including software and patents, which together may be worth about $5 billion, roughly in line with the company's current market value.
The phone unit, BlackBerry's biggest source of revenue, is essentially worthless because most buyers would shut it down in favor of their own technology, at a cost of as much as $800 million, said analysts at Raymond James Ltd. and BMO Capital Markets. Its patents, software and a secure network are each worth more than $1 billion, the analysts said, and the company has about $2.8 billion in cash.
The Waterloo, Ontario-based company appointed board members last week to analyze a sale or new partnerships to try to turn the company around. The value of the hardware unit may plummet further as customers shy from buying a device whose future is up in the air, leading acquirers to gravitate to BlackBerry's other assets, Brian Huen, managing partner at Red Sky Capital Management, said by phone on August 19.
"You're effectively killing that business by saying 'I'm up for sale,'' said Huen, whose Toronto-based firm manages about C$220 million ($212 million) in assets including BlackBerry shares. "Nobody is interested in buying the entire entity. I think they are now in the phase of saying, 'We will do anything to maximize value, including breaking up the company.''
Lisette Kwong, a spokesman for BlackBerry, declined to comment about a potential breakup and sale of the company's parts.
BlackBerry hired JPMorgan Chase & Co. and RBC Capital Markets 17 months ago to explore its strategic options as sales of the company's once-iconic phones tumbled amid competition from Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Those bankers contacted possible bidders late last year and found little interest in buying the whole company, particularly from private-equity firms, said two people familiar with those discussions.
International Business Machines Corp., made an informal approach to buy BlackBerry's enterprise-services business in 2012, two people told Bloomberg in August of that year. IBM, based in Armonk, New York, was not interested in pursuing the whole company, the people said.
James Sciales, an IBM spokesman, did not return a request for comment.
The hardware business, which helped fuel net income of $3.4 billion in 2011, lagged behind as the industry shifted to touchscreen devices with a wide variety of applications available for download.
BlackBerry's share of the global smartphone market fell to 2.9 percent in the second quarter from 4.9 percent a year earlier, behind Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Phone platform, Apple Inc.'s iOS and Google Inc's market-leading Android, according to IDC, based in Framingham, Massachusetts.
Speculation that the company might be taken to private to be restructured or broken up out of the public spotlight accelerated after the August 12 announcement, in which Prem Watsa, a Toronto-based businessman and BlackBerry's largest shareholder, said he would step down from the board. The company did not mention going private as an option at the time.
SWe struggle to assign any value to the hardware business given the belief the most logical acquirer of BlackBerry would likely attempt to transition BlackBerryWs subscriber base to its own competing smartphone products or ecosystem,s Michael Walkley, an analyst at Canaccord Genuity Inc. in Minneapolis said in an August 12 note. He rates BlackBerry a sell.
In addition to its cash, BlackBerry has smartphone patents, an operating system that powers car-information systems and even nuclear power plants, and a network of secure servers that cater to millions of government and business users. The company had 72 million smartphone subscribers at the end of June.
Tim Long, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets in New York, puts the cost of shutting down BlackBerry's hardware unit at about $800 million, or $1.50 a share. He rates BlackBerry a hold.