Skip to main content

Despite what you've read on Twitter, Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd.'s campaign to take over Norfolk Southern Corp. is alive.

The confusion began when a CNBC tweet referring to a Wall Street Journal story missed a couple of crucial words from the original story's headline.

What started out as "Canadian Pacific plans to abandon threat of proxy fight for Norfolk Southern," became "Canadian Pacific Railway plans to abandon proxy fight for Norfolk Southern, mulling move to push $NSC into takeover talks – DJ," when CNBC Now sent out a tweet about the Journal story that appeared on the Dow Jones news wire.

The misinformation was compounded by people who misread the misleading tweet, and began declaring the $28-billion (U.S.) takeover dead.

Notice the words "threat of" were omitted in the CNBC tweet, which provided no link to the story. And although the CNBC tweet accurately said CP was trying other ways to get Virginia-based Norfolk Southern to the negotiating table, this part was missed by those who quoted the tweet.

When The Globe called CP, a CP spokesman described the CNBC tweet as "misleading." There is, after all, no proxy fight; CP and its allies have not put forth any nominations to the Norfolk Southern board. (Though it has threatened to do so.)

By early afternoon, CP issued a statement saying it will submit a resolution at Norfolk Southern's next meeting asking board members to sit down and talk about a merger with CP. Talk of unseating Norfolk Southern's board is gone, but CP is forging ahead.

"We are not asking NS shareholders to vote on the existing proposal; we are simply asking them to vote in favour of having their board talk to us," Hunter Harrison, CP's chief executive officer, said in a statement. "We continue to believe in the potential to create a transcontinental railroad with NS and believe this is a fair and measured approach to getting a deal done."

Norfolk Southern did not immediately respond to an interview request.

CP launched the takeover attempt in November, saying the formation of North America's biggest railway network would ease congestion, especially in Chicago, and improve customer service.

Norfolk Southern has repeatedly rejected proposals from CP, calling the offer undervalued and noting the U.S. regulator would be unlikely to approve any merger. That regulator, the Surface Transportation Board, has posted a growing list of letters it has received from railway customers and U.S. politicians, almost all calling a merger bad for business.

The opposition from shippers, coupled with recent hints from Mr. Harrison that the company might buy back its own shares instead of dragging out an increasingly expensive and time-consuming merger battle, could signal the merger is doomed.

Which means all those wrong tweets might be right, after all.