How Likely is a Sale of RIM?

 
on January 25 2013 11:55 AM

Research in Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM [FREE Stock Trend Analysis]) shares continued to rally on Friday morning, gaining about another 2 percent. Canada's Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said that the Canadian government would look “carefully” at a tie-up between RIM and Lenovo.

Although he did not dismiss a possible sale outright, he said that some technologies were completely off limits to overseas buyers, according to Bloomberg.

Lenovo's CFO said Thursday that the company was looking at acquiring RIM as an option to boost its mobile business. Lenovo is the world's second largest PC maker, but as PC sales have experienced a secular decline, the company has been looking to shift into mobile.

If Lenovo wants to acquire RIM, the Canadian government will have to approve. In the past, Canada has blocked deals that would see its companies sold to non-Canadians. Notably, Canada blocked BHP Billiton's (NYSE: BHP) takeover attempt of Potash (NYSE: POT) in 2010.

However, in December, the Canadian government approved the acquisition of Nexen by a Chinese company -- so perhaps Canada would approve of another Chinese company (Lenovo) buying all, or part of, RIM.

RIM has already shed about 7000 employees over the last two years. If BlackBerry 10 fails to meet early expectations, it might be better for Canada to let RIM be sold than lose even more jobs should the company collapse.

In May of last year, RIM hired J.P. Morgan (NYSE: JPM) and RBC Capital to help it review its strategic options, including a sale of the company. RIM then turned its focus to accelerating the development of BB10, reportedly asking its employees to put in six-day work weeks and limit vacation time.

But BB10 raises further questions: If BB10 does well initially, then why would RIM want to sell itself? If it doesn't, why would anyone want to buy the company?

Is Lenovo the most likely acquirer? The company, by its own admission, does face longer-term challenges as consumers shift away from its bread and butter PCs. But why buy RIM when Lenovo could simply embrace Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android or Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Windows Phone 8?

Rather than a Chinese company, perhaps investors should look to Japan.

Japan's Softbank bought a 70 percent stake in U.S. telecom giant Sprint (NYSE: S) last year. Hedge fund manager Kyle Bass, known for his bearish views on Japan, told CNBC's viewers to expect more acquisitions by Japanese companies. As the yen continues to weaken -- and there is widespread speculation that it will weaken further -- it becomes attractive for Japanese companies to use their yen reserves to acquire foreign assets, in this case RIM.

Perhaps some Japanese tech company would have interest in RIM's technology. Or perhaps Softbank would go one step further, acquiring RIM as a way to bolster its Sprint investment.

Shares of RIM traded near $18 Friday.

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