The Week

BlackBerry auction gets interesting as Mike Lazaridis plots a second coming

The Globe and Mail

These are stories Report on Business followed this week.

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Co-founders eye BlackBerry
Its co-founders are trying to decide whether to go for Round Two at BlackBerry Ltd.

As The Globe and Mail's Sean Silcoff and Jacquie McNish report, the auction of BlackBerry got far more interesting this week with the disclosure in a regulatory filing that Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin are considering a bid for the embattled smartphone manufacturer.

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Together, they control 41.7 million shares, or 8 per cent of the company they built, then known as Research In Motion.

Mr. Lazaridis, the former co-CEO, and Mr. Fregin, the one-time vice-president of operations, have struck a pact to "work with each other with respect to any potential acquisition of all or a portion of the assets or equity interests" of BlackBerry, according to the document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

They've hired Goldman Sachs & Co. and Centerview Partners LLC to help in the process. They haven't decided on a bid but, according to the filing, are considering all their options for their stake, including "a potential acquisition" that could include other parties.

One of the key things here is that Mr. Lazaridis, who gave the world mobile e-mail, has said he doesn't want to see BlackBerry broken up.

Nor does Prem Watsa, the chief executive officer of Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., which holds about 10 per cent of BlackBerry and has struck a preliminary deal proposing to lead a consortium in a $4.7-billion (U.S.) takeover.

But aside from Mr. Watsa, there's a lot of talk and no action at this point.

The co-founders are considering, U.S. private equity firm Cerberus is mulling a run, and industry players such as Google Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and SAP AG are also reportedly interested.

BlackBerry's stock price illustrates what the markets think. While Mr. Watsa's tentative deal calls for a takeover at $9 a share, the stock is well below that level.

The Fairfax CEO has said more than once he'll follow through, but investors are skeptical it will get done, and at that price.

Shutdown drags on
The U.S. Treasury Department's deadline for raising the government debt ceiling is getting awfully close.

If the limit isn't lifted by Oct. 17, officials say the United States will be tapped out, raising the extreme scenario of a default.

That has sent investors into temporary tizzies, though moves to end the standoff buoyed markets late in the week.

President Barack Obama met first with the House Republicans, on Thursday, and then with their Senate counterparts on Friday, seemingly heading toward a deal that would temporarily raise the debt ceiling, possibly until the end of January, according to reports.

Some observers, however, note that a temporary increase would solve no longer-term issues, but would simply punt the problem to return to haunt markets again at a later date.

And the partial shutdown of the U.S. government is already taking an economic toll, leading economists to cut their outlook for economic growth.

"Should a debt deal emerge over the weekend, then equities are likely to rally further with few at the office to capitalize," said Derek Holt, noting that bond markets are closed Monday for Columbus Day as Canada celebrates its Thanksgiving.

"Whether such a rally is sustained or not would also then depend upon what would turn into a data deluge following a debt deal as the government reopens and backlogged releases clear out including nonfarm payrolls and retail sales, to name just two key indicators."

Yellen tapped
Janet Yellen is on track to become the most powerful economic figure in the world.

President Barack Obama this week nominated the current vice-chair of the Federal Reserve to succeed Ben Bernanke and take the helm of the U.S. central bank in late January.

There are those who say Ms. Yellen is the dove of all doves, others who say she simply supports the easy-money ways of the current policy-setting group at the Fed, the Federal Open Market Committee.

Which raises questions about when the Fed will pull back on its huge asset-buying scheme known as quantitative easing, or QE. Most believed the Fed would announce at its last meeting that it was "tapering" the $85-billion (U.S.) in monthly purchases, but the central bank surprised the markets by holding back.

"Yellen is known to have been unhappy with the cacophony of voices emerging from various FOMC members in terms of the impact on the market’s policy expectations," said Peter Buchanan and Avery Shenfeld of CIBC World Markets.

"She wants the Fed to speak with a clearer voice, less muddied by dissension," they added in a report.

"Investors would certainly welcome that shift, having been wrong footed in recent months by misleading Fed guidance. But, while her steely resolve might help rein in the troops, achieving greater harmony could require her to move more to the centre of the Fed’s ranks than she has been to this point."

She must still be confirmed in the role.

Icahn grabs Talisman stake
It took Carl Icahn exactly 140 characters to raise the prospect of trouble at Talisman Energy Inc.

His tweet on Monday: "Disclosed approx 61 million share position in Talisman Energy. May have conversations with mgmt re strategic alternatives, board seats, etc."

As The Globe and Mail's Jeffrey Jones reports, Mr. Icahn is well known for his aggressive moves at companies such as Apple Inc. and Dell Inc.

He's suggesting that, given a stake of almost 6 per cent in the Canadian energy company, he's probably going to turn up the heat, possibly pushing Talisman to sell itself or speed up its restructuring.

"We appreciate constructive input from shareholders and take their views seriously," Talisman said in response, not via Twitter but in a statement.

"We are committed to acting in the best interests of the company and give due consideration to constructive recommendations for strategies or actions that have the potential to increase shareholder value."

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Required reading
The latest C-Suite Survey of business executives shows that while the vast majority are optimistic about their company’s prospects, the scars of 2008-2009 still remain. Richard Blackwell reports.

More Canadians are joining the ranks of the self-employed, reflecting a reluctance among employers to hire permanently, as well as the desire of some older workers to be their own bosses, Tavia Grant writes.

You can buy a house for less money in the suburbs than you can in a big city, but the cost of commuting may kill almost all your savings, personal finance columnist Rob Carrick writes.

The impressive new boom in sub-Saharan Africa is still vulnerable to volatile commodity prices, and the rapid growth isn't making a marked dent in poverty and inequality, Geoffrey York reports from Johannesburg.

Egyptian telecom investor Naguib Sawiris offered to give up federal contracts if he bought MTS Allstream Inc., but couldn't allay national security concerns, Rita Trichur, Steven Chase and Boyd Erman report.

The days of Ontario bragging about being the largest auto-making jurisdiction in Canada and the United States are coming to an end. Greg Keenan looks at how Michigan has jumped into first place.

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