Samsung and BlackBerry: Coming together? Not at this price

Korean/Canuck Glasnost doesn't mean a takeover

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Analysis A Reuters report that Samsung held talks with Canada's BlackBerry over a possible acquisition doesn't ring true, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the deal as reported would represent a haircut for BlackBerry's biggest shareholder, and financial saviour Prem Watsa.

Watsa's Fairfax Holdings bought most of BlackBerry stock at $17 per share - more than the "$13.35 to $15.49 per share" bid price Reuters reports.

Watsa would have taken BlackBerry private in December 2013, but failed to raise the cash. For Watsa to take a haircut now he would need to be desperate, with no faith in his team's ability to grow the company. And he isn't.

Secondly, the patent wars have cooled off since their height three years ago. Patent trolls continue to harass wealthy companies with shakedowns, but the epic Apple vs Samsung litigation circus is largely over.

The justification offered by Reuters - that Samsung wants access to the Rockstar Consortium patents, which once belonged to Nortel - is especially odd. Yes, the consortium sued Samsung and Apple. Yes, BlackBerry is a consortium member.

But Rockstar is largely being wound up; it settled with Google in November. Reuters omits this inconvenient fact.

Thirdly, BlackBerry has given shareholders hope of a turnaround, with renewed focus giving it a strong portfolio - bolstered by coherent R&D investment and a few shrewd acquisitions.

The pain of the huge cuts program (with 4,500 redundancies announced in September 2013, following 5,000 in 2012) is behind it. BlackBerry's rescue artistes spent 2014 laying the foundations for growth, based on using its network as a strategic asset.

This helps secure and ease a number of other services. The focus is on "regulated industries", where BlackBerry already has a significant footprint: finance, health care, insurance and the public sector.

In a post-Snowden, post-Sony hack world, these kinds of services look more relevant rather than less relevant. Who, reading the extent of the Sony hack, didn't wish they had BlackBerry-style security? After the attack, Sony used BlackBerry for secure communications, as its other systems had been compromised.

However, BlackBerry isn't out of the woods, and as No.2 John Sim told us recently, it's a multi-year plan - and the BES12 server central to this has only just been launched. By late 2015 the board should know if the plan is worth persevering with.

Sims also told us something else recently which is relevant. BlackBerry and Samsung have quietly reached a kind of detente - BlackBerry will manage Knox secure containers.

BlackBerry executives said their Samsung counterparts were initially surprised that the Canadian company was seeking a co-operative relationship. But it was important to BlackBerry credibility as a server-side enterprise management company to be able to manage Android containers.

And now that the Wild West BYOD days are over, it was equally important to Samsung's ability to sell into enterprises to be able to be managed by BlackBerry servers.

There remains an overlap of interest that gave the story legs. But it's hard to envisage a deal today - and certainly not at this price. ®


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