Blackberry shares jump after Lenovo CEO expresses interest

Bloomberg NewsMarch 12, 2013 

  • AT&T starts taking pre-orders for new Blackberry Tuesday

    AT&T, the second-largest U.S. wireless carrier, will begin taking consumers’ orders for BlackBerry’s new flagship Z10 phone Tuesday, ahead of the device going on sale March 22.

    The Z10 will sell for $199.99 with a two-year agreement, according to a statement from Dallas-based AT&T. It is the first phone to run BlackBerry’s new BB10 operating system, the linchpin of the Canadian smartphone company’s comeback bid.

    The U.S. rollout of the Z10 trails its debut in other countries, a delay that BlackBerry has attributed to a lengthier testing process by American carriers. With the new phone, BlackBerry and AT&T are looking to entice customers into ditching the physical keyboard that was once BlackBerry’s hallmark in favor of a touch-screen interface.

    In its statement, AT&T didn’t mention the timing of the release of the Q10, a model with a physical keyboard designed to appeal to BlackBerry’s user base. Although BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins said in February that the Q10 will go on sale “around the April-May time frame,” the company has yet to give specific dates for its release in any country.

— BlackBerry shares jumped the most in more than a month after Lenovo Group’s chief executive officer was quoted in a French financial newspaper as saying his company may eventually consider buying the smartphone maker.

Lenovo’s Yang Yuanqing told Les Echos that a deal with Ontario-based BlackBerry “could possibly make sense, but first I need to analyze the market and understand what exactly the importance of this company is.”

The remarks echoed comments made in January by Lenovo Chief Financial Officer Wong Wai Ming, who told Bloomberg News that the company was “looking at all opportunities,” including BlackBerry. The Canadian smartphone maker began a review of its strategic options last year after losing market share to Apple and Samsung Electronics, raising speculation that it could be a takeover target.

Shares of BlackBerry, formerly known as Research In Motion Ltd., rose 14 percent to $14.90 at the close in New York, the biggest gain since Feb. 4. The stock has climbed 26 percent this year.

A union between the two could have ramifications in the Triangle where Blackberry has a research lab and where Lenovo employs about 2,000 at its executive headquarters.

Any foreign bid for BlackBerry would need regulatory approval. The Canadian government automatically reviews all foreign takeovers of companies with asset values of more than $335 million to determine whether the transactions are of “net benefit” to the country.

When asked in January about Wong’s comments, BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins said he didn’t know why the Lenovo executive had made those remarks.

“As always with these topics, we will talk about things when they are ready to be talked about and ready to be announced,” Heins said in an interview at the time. “There are other constituents in the process that need to be involved, if there would be anything.”

At the time, Lenovo also threw cold water on the prospect, releasing a statement that said Wong was speaking broadly about the company’s merger and acquisition strategy.

BlackBerry reports quarterly results on March 28, when Heins is expected to update investors on any developments in the strategic review. In the past, he hasn’t ruled out an acquisition of BlackBerry, while stressing that he’s more focused on striking a licensing deal or forging some other partnership.

He said in January that he’s potentially open to licensing the new BlackBerry 10 software, including to other handset makers, known as original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs.

“If OEMs come around and the business case makes sense as a whole, we would certainly consider it,” he said. “We’d not be prudent not to consider it.”

Staff writer Mary Cornatzer contributed to this report

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