Export Development Canada is lending British telecom giant Vodafone Group PLC $850-million (U.S.), the bulk of which will be used to finance the purchase of BlackBerry Ltd. handsets and services.
The financing package – the largest this year by the federal government's export lender – comes at an opportune time for BlackBerry, which is poised this week to unveil its latest smartphone, the Classic, and release third-quarter results.
The company, under the leadership of turnaround specialist John Chen, is attempting to revive its business following a steep drop in smartphone sales and a steady decline in lucrative service fees derived from its dwindling customer base, which includes about 40 million business and government users.
Of the total loan package, $750-million will go to pay for purchases by Vodafone, one of the world's largest wireless carriers, of the entire range of BlackBerry's offerings, including equipment and services.
The five-year financing, to be announced Tuesday, is being made at "commercial terms," but the rate is confidential, said Todd Winterhalt, EDC's vice-president of international development.
Vodafone has been one of BlackBerry's largest customers since it began selling the company's smartphones to its business clientele in the early 2000s.
It marks the second time in two years that EDC has financed BlackBerry export sales to Vodafone, and the second BlackBerry-related financing with a major European telecom. At the end of 2012, EDC lent $750-million, which Vodafone recently repaid. And last year, EDC provided $256-million in loans to Telefonica SA of Spain, also to finance BlackBerry purchases.
The loans will help BlackBerry "solidify their presence" in Europe's various emerging markets where Vodafone operates, Mr. Winterhalt said.
The EDC got involved because private-sector lenders typically won't finance purchases of this size, Mr. Winterhalt explained. "$750-million or $850-million is a big dollar amount and a lot of the commercial players can't do that," he said. "They would be maxed out."
Adam Emery, a BlackBerry spokesman, declined to provide additional details.
The remaining $100-million of the loan package will go toward expanding Vodafone's base of smaller suppliers in Canada.
A bonus of this deal is the $100-million to help Vodafone identify other potential Canadian telecom suppliers, particularly smaller ones that otherwise wouldn't be able to get in the door at a customer of that size, Mr. Winterhalt said. "These transactions are not just about two big companies. This is really a small-business story."
Vodafone has mobile operation in 26 countries and 438 million wireless customers. It also has fixed and broadband operations in 17 countries.
EDC officials said they specifically target companies whose purchasing needs match up with expertise in Canada.
The Vodafone financing is EDC's second major one this year with a European telecom company. In September, EDC provided financing of $254-million to Telefonica SA of Spain. That package was aimed at encouraging the company to purchase equipment and services from Alcatel-Lucent, a French company with extensive operations in Canada.
So far this year, EDC has arranged financings worth $19.2-billion, up from $16.3-billion at the same time last year.