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Blackberry logos and flags are seen at the company’s offices in Waterloo, Ont. (Matthew Sherwood for The Globe and Mail)
Blackberry logos and flags are seen at the company’s offices in Waterloo, Ont. (Matthew Sherwood for The Globe and Mail)

Pension funds cool to BlackBerry buyout overtures Add to ...

Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., the largest shareholder of BlackBerry Ltd., is courting some of Canada’s largest pension plans to join it in a buyout consortium as one of the options for the embattled smartphone maker.

It has been a tough sell so far. Sources say none of the big funds have jumped on board with the idea, amid growing skepticism about the company’s ability to turn around falling sales. Fairfax is also talking to potential buyers for its 9.9-per-cent stake.

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BlackBerry announced in August that it had formed a committee to explore all strategic options, including putting itself up for sale. That process is expected to conclude around November.

Takeover speculation has pushed up the company’s stock since then, and a report in the U.K.’s Sunday Times that said Fairfax had assembled “billions in backing” from Canadian pension funds drove up the stock nearly 6 per cent on Monday to $11.96. That price is a fraction of the $138.57 that BlackBerry’s stock commanded at its peak in 2008.

Fairfax has made overtures to a number of pension plans, private equity firms and technology companies to review a variety of strategic options including an acquisition. But the firm is still debating whether it will ultimately participate in a buyout of BlackBerry or whether to sell its stake in any deal. Its preference is to find an industry player – another tech company – to buy BlackBerry, sources said.

People familiar with the discussions said none of Canada’s major pension plans is yet prepared to join a takeover consortium.

Industry giants such as Microsoft and Google once coveted the company’s booming global BlackBerry smartphone business, but Bay Street sources said the company’s loss of market share to bigger and more nimble competitors such as Apple has dampened potential acquisition interest. According to people familiar with the process, a number of U.S. tech giants have been invited to consider a bid, but their intentions are unknown.

Fairfax currently owns a 9.9-per-cent stake in BlackBerry, and its chief executive officer Prem Watsa recently resigned from the board of BlackBerry, enabling Fairfax to explore its options independently. It is understood that Mr. Watsa remains remains on good terms with BlackBerry’s board.

Fairfax has long been an investor in BlackBerry and doubled stake to nearly 10 per cent in the summer of 2012, shortly after Mr. Watsa joined the board.

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