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(Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

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Business Briefing

BlackBerry met with Facebook to discuss potential takeover: Report Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013.

Follow Michael Babad and The Globe's Business Briefing on Twitter.

BBM met Facebook
BlackBerry Ltd. has discussed the possibility of a sale to Facebook Inc., The Wall Street Journal reports today.

The report had few details, saying only that executives of the embattled smartphone maker flew to California last week to meet with Facebook and suss out whether the social network might be interested in a bid.

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It was not clear whether Facebook is indeed interested, the Journal said, citing sources.

There’s certainly a lot of interest in BlackBerry, but, at this point, little in the way of firm action other than the tentative bid struck earlier with Canada’s Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd.

Fairfax proposes to lead a consortium that would buy BlackBerry for $4.7-billion (U.S.) or $9 a share.

BlackBerry co-founders Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin have also expressed interest in a takeover, and former Apple Inc. chief John Scully is also considering BlackBerry, which is in the midst of an auction for all or part of the company.

The Journal said neither BlackBerry nor Facebook would comment but, given the report, the latter is likely to be asked by analysts tomorrow after it reports quarterly results.

The Journal story came as BlackBerry reported that the launch of its free BBM app for iPhones and Android devices has brought in 20 million new active users of the popular chat service.

It was just a week ago that the company resumed the rollout of the app, having hit a snag earlier. In the first 24 hours alone, it boasted 10 million downloads.

"BBM has now ended its first week with more than 80 million monthly active users, including over 20 million new users on Android and iPhone devices," the Canadian company said in a statement.

"During its first week, BBM was the top free overall app in 35 countries in Google Play and in 107 countries in the App Store, and continues to maintain a strong position in key markets such as Canada, the U.S. the U.K., Indonesia and much of the Middle East, to name a few."

Some BBM hopefuls had waited hours to get the service in a "virtual line-up" that backed up for the equivalent of miles, but BlackBerry said today that line-up is over, The Globe and Mail's Sean Silcoff reports.

That the BBM message service is a hit is clear. Not clear to some observers, however, is the money it will bring to BlackBerry.

Banks face probe
At least two big banks are targets of a probe into possible manipulation of currency markets, while a third has settled a case over a key interest rate.

Both UBS and Deutsche Bank said today they are co-operating with investigations into trading in foreign exchange markets.

“UBS and other financial institutions have received requests from various authorities relating to their foreign exchange businesses, and UBS is co-operating with the authorities,” Switzerland’s largest bank said in its quarterly earnings report, citing several regulatory bodies around the world, including those in the United States and Britain.

“We have taken and will take appropriate action with respect to certain personnel as a result of our review, which is ongoing,” the bank added.

It disclosed neither what action it has taken nor the other banks that may be involved.

Separately, however, Deutsche Bank said in its earnings report that it, too, has been asked for information and that it is co-operating.

“Following an initial media report in June 2013 of widespread irregularities in the foreign exchange markets, we immediately commenced an internal review of our foreign exchange business,” UBS said.

“Since then, various authorities reportedly have commenced investigations concerning possible manipulation of foreign exchange markets.”

Earlier this month, the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority said it had launched an investigation into several institutions, though gave no details. Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority is also investigating possibly currency market manipulations.

No allegations have been proven.

While no regulator has provided details, the investigations follow reports by Bloomberg News that have centred on what is known as a “fix,” which pegs the value of a currency at a certain time of day, and is used as a benchmark.

One of the major fixes is that by WM/Reuters. The Bank of Canada, for example, also has a noon fix.

The currency market probe comes alongside a scandal involving manipulation of a key interest rate known as Libor.

Today, Dutch bank Rabobank agreed to settle a case by paying more than $1-billion (U.S.), while its chief executive officer, Piet Moerland, quit.

Sears quits stores
Sears Canada Inc. is quitting its flagship outlet in Toronto, along with four others, raising questions about its turnaround, The Globe and Mail’s Marina Strauss reports today.

Quitting the store at Toronto’s Eaton Centre will also set the stage for the entry into Canada next year of Nordstrom Inc., which wants that site.

Sears said today it has struck a deal with landlords to sell back five leases.

Profits erode
Canadian companies are in the midst of a “profit slump,” a new study warns, which is showing up in the underperformance of their shares.

Indeed, Toronto-Dominion Bank said today, the recent drop in corporate profits is the most severe since the dot-com bust when you exclude periods of recession.

TD economist Leslie Preston measured the decline both in actual terms and relative to gross domestic product, finding that the bulk of the trouble has been centred in “a few key sectors” such as manufacturing and resources, though the weakness is broad-based.

“Any way you slice it, corporate Canada is in a slump,” she said.

“Corporate profits have declined in five of the past six quarters and are now 16 per cent below their post-recession peak in late 2011,” she added in her study.

“This decline is not as bad as during the last recession, but it is approaching the performance Canadian firms saw during the U.S. downturn in 2000-2001. That is also the last time corporate profits as a share of nominal GDP was this low outside of a recession.”

Ms. Preston believes that a stronger U.S. economy next year will boost demand for Canadian exporters, and subsequently their profits.

Stronger commodity prices and a lower Canadian dollar should help, as well, she said.

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