Research In Motion Takeover Speculation Drives Shares Up 12%

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RESEARCH IN MOTION
RIM CEO Mike Lazaridis. | AP

TORONTO - Shares of Research In Motion (TSX:RIM) were up sharply Wednesday amid new takeover rumours surrounding the BlackBerry smartphone maker, this time involving U.K.-based telecom giant Vodafone.

At one point, RIM shares gained as much as 15 per cent before settling back and closing up $2.29 or 10.3 per cent at $24.49 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, with 6.5 million shares traded.

The Independent newspaper in London did not cite any sources, but said that "vague rumours" suggest RIM has urged an unidentified investment bank to consider various strategic options for the company.

RIM shares have tumbled in recent months. Investors remain skeptical of its ability to compete against a growing number of competitors, including Apple's iPhone (Nasdaq:AAPL) and devices using Google's Android operating system.

Canadian institutional investor Jaguar Financial said the status quo for RIM is going to change.

"You can just smell it in the air," said chairman and CEO Vic Alboini of Jaguar, which owns just under five per cent of RIM stock.

"The directors at some point will have to take action," he said of RIM's management board. "The only question in our view is when."

Jaguar now has a list of 10 institutional shareholders calling for changes to RIM's board of directors and management structure as well as a strategic options review, Alboini said.

Reports from the investment community have also suggested that activist investor Carl Icahn is buying into the struggling company with plans to make changes or put it up for sale. Icahn hasn't commented on the reports.

Icahn has taken stakes in many big companies β€” from Motorola and Lions Gate Entertainment to bleach maker Clorox β€” and usually forces them to restructure. Those shares then generally rise and Icahn cashes in.

Jaguar and its supportive shareholders are in favour of RIM being acquired, said Alboini, also chairman and CEO of Toronto-based Northern Securities Inc.

But he said Jaguar and the 10-member shareholder group are also in favour of RIM splitting into three companies: a network company, a device company and a patents company.

Alboini said RIM hasn't had a clear focus in the last three to four years due to management distractions.

"Steve Jobs, in a three- to four-year period, has captured the attention of people who want iPhones universally. During that same period of time, one of the two (RIM) co-CEO's was off trying to buy a hockey team," he said of Jim Balsillie's attempts to bring an NHL team to Hamilton, Ont.

"You can commend him for wanting to buy a hockey team in the interests of Canadians and the local community, but the reality is that it took his eye of the puck. The real puck in this case is RIM. That's his job," Alboini said from Toronto.

"That was the period of time in which Apple catapulted to the front and RIM virtually disappeared."

Alboini also criticized what he called RIM's "musical chairs" period between 2007 and 2010, saying there was no company chairman during that time.

"That, unfortunately, mirrors the period of the stock price going from a high of $149 in 2007 to $46 in 2010," he said. "Meanwhile, Apple ended up doing what it did β€” a fantastic job. They stole the limelight."

RIM has come under scrutiny, particularly from analysts, for its slowness in releasing new smartphone models and for weak sales of its PlayBook, a tablet trying to compete with Apple's iPad.

Last month, the Waterloo, Ont.,-based tech firm missed analyst expectations as second-quarter profits fell 58 per cent to US$329 million amid weaker than expected BlackBerry and PlayBook sales.

RIM also booked a charge of $118 million to pay the cost of cutting 2,000 jobs, about 11 per cent of its workforce.

RIM's stock briefly dropped below US$20 at midday on the New York market Tuesday, its lowest level in nearly six years.

RIM was once worth about $70 billion and has, from time to time, been Canada's most valuable company. Today it has a market value of about $12 billion or so, making it much more attractive as a takeover target.

Alboini said the key is which option will deliver the most value to shareholders and added there could be up to 20 potential buyers for RIM, including computer maker Dell, hardware systems and business software company Oracle, software company SAP and even social media site Facebook.

David Friend, The Canadian Press

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